1.) “De Kooning: A Retrospective” at the Museum of Modern Art. Curator John Elderfield’s exhibition revealed Willem de Kooning as the most important American painter of the figure. Little discussed by critics was one of the keys to Elderfield’s approach: The 200-object show included only 25 canvases made in the last 27 years of de Kooning’s life, which allowed the artist’s better, earlier work to dominate. The catalogue was on my 2011 best books list. MAN’s review: part one, part two. [Image: de Kooning, Park Rosenberg, 1957.]
2.) “Richard Diebenkorn: The Ocean Park Series” at the Museum of Modern Art Fort Worth. Orange County Museum of Art curator Sarah C. Bancroft’s exhibition, which is debuting now at the Modern Art Museum Fort Worth, reveals Diebenkorn’s career-ending series as the apex of 20th-century abstract painting. Among Bancroft’s best decisions: including not just the famed paintings, but drawings, paintings on paper and prints. The catalogue was on my 2011 best books list, mostly because essays by Bancroft and especially Susan Landauer are must-reads. MAN’s review.
3.) “Carleton Watkins: The Complete Mammoth Plate Photographs,” from the J. Paul Getty Museum and Getty Publications. A massive work of scholarship 18 years in the making, this book gives us a fullest view yet of the artist who did more than anyone to create America’s visual idea of the West. It establishes Watkins as the first great made-in-America artist. MAN’s review. [Image: Watkins, Late George Cling Peaches, 1889. Collections of the Museum of Modern Art and The Huntington.]
4.) “State of Mind: New California Art Circa 1970″ at the Orange County Museum of Art. This groundbreaking Pacific Standard Time exhibition, which was co-organized by the Berkeley Art Museum, shows early American conceptualism as fresh and full of humor — and by so doing inadvertently revealed that the vast majority of recent conceptual art is pompous, over-blown and, well, tired. Catalogue. MAN’s review: Forthcoming. [Image below, right: Martha Rosler, First Lady (Pat Nixon), from “Bringing the War Home: House Beautiful,” 1967-72.]
5.) “Picasso: Guitars 1912-1914″ at the Museum of Modern Art. Curator Anne Umland excavated a narrow part of Picasso’s oeuvre and spotlighted keys to Picasso’s art — and drive. Unfortunately: There has been no scholarly catalogue and it’s unclear when MoMA will produce a promised digital version. MAN’s review: part one, part two, part three.
6.) “Phenomenal: California Light, Space, Surface” at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego. The first-ever survey presented light-and-space art as one of the 20th-century’s most important art movements. Gorgeously installed in three different buildings, the show didn’t just look great, it underscored how much more curatorial and scholarly attention light-and-space requires. The catalogue was on MAN’s 2011 best books list. MAN’s review: Forthcoming. [Image below: Doug Wheeler, DW 68 VEN MCASD 11, 1968/2011.]
7.) “Lewis Baltz: Prototypes/Ronde de Nuit” at the National Gallery of Art. Organized by Art Institute of Chicago curator Matthew Witkovsky, this exhibition focused on the beginning of Baltz’s career, when he was examining how contemporary art, mostly painting, could contribute to a conceptually-driven photographic practice. Catalogue. MAN’s review: Part one, part two.
8.) “John Marin’s Watercolors: A Medium for Modernism” from the Art Institute of Chicago and Yale University Press. I didn’t see the exhibition that this book accompanied, but this publication, which features an all-star lineup of scholars, is one of the best books on American modernism in many years.
9.) “Charline von Heyl” at the Institute of Contemporary Art Philadelphia. This is a strong but imperfect exhibition: A survey of von Heyl’s work from the last decade (von Heyl is 20-plus years into her career), this exhibition is heavy on von Heyl’s most recent output. Still, it reveals her as one of the most important painters working in America and whets our appetite for a full-career retrospective at the Tate Liverpool and the Kunsthalle Nuremberg in 2012. Catalogue. Charline von Heyl on The Modern Art Notes Podcast.
10.) Pacific Standard Time, the concept. By spending somewhere around $10 million over several years, the J. Paul Getty Trust helped dozens of museums (and encouraged dozens of commercial galleries) to study the art history of one of America’s top two art-producing regions. The result has been a series of much-needed exhibitions, piles of new scholarship — and much scholarly and critical re-consideration of post-war American art history. Philanthropies and donors in other cities should copy this — and the Getty should organize a PST II. (And it sounds like it will.)