Though there was no shortage of great debuts around town in 2012, it felt like an especially strong year for rediscoveries—exhibitions that offered the chance to revisit artists that the New York market and most mainstream art histories have, for various reasons, overlooked. All around town, museums and galleries presented artists who are late in their careers and who have shown little in New York in recent years (or in recent decades)—if they have even shown here at all.
The New York art world still craves the next young talent, and the latest show from an established star, to be sure, but its dealers and curators seem increasingly interested in taking a look back to explore what they may be missing.
Three standouts from the past year: SculptureCenter presented the thorough retrospective that the late, great postminimalist Bill Bollinger deserved in his hometown, James Fuentes and JTT teamed up on a show of Bill Walton, an ace sculptor (1931–2010) from Philadelphia who never had a solo show in New York during his long career, and Peter Fend, a longtime troublemaker, popped up in superb shows all over the city.
In the slide show above, a look at 10 of the year’s finest surprises.
Bill Bollinger at SculptureCenter and Algus Greenspon
Though Bill Bollinger was included in many of the seminal shows of postminimalism in the late 1960s, the New York artist's career waned and he died in relative obscurity in 1988 at the age of only 48. As Algus Greenspon put it earlier this year in a press release for their show of Bollinger work from 1966 through 1977, he "left a reputation cosseted largely by anecdote." This year, New Yorkers finally got the opportunity to see a large trove of his works, thanks to an expansive and achingly beautiful show at SculptureCenter. Made with materials like metal pipes, fencing, wheelbarrows, scattered graphite and water, Bollinger's works, from 1966 through 1970, looked bracingly contemporary, and showed exactly why he was, for a time, considered a leader. The show at Algus Greenspon (partner Mitchell Algus has carried the Bollinger flag for years, and presented his work in a 2007 show) presented what came next for the artist: bristly cast-iron pieces that looked absolutely fearsome, even 40 years after they were made. Here's hoping some New York institutions will ensure we can see Bollinger's art again soon.
Judith Bernstein at New Museum
Thanks to shows at Mitchell Algus and, in 2010, at Alex Zachary Peter Currie, Judith Bernstein, the mistress of epically scaled drawings of phallic objects (and her signature), who helped found the A.I.R. Gallery and battled censorship in the 1970s, has seen her star steadily rise recently. In 2012, the New Museum helped the cause, presenting a small exhibition, the pioneer's first-ever New York museum show, in its first-floor gallery. It whet the appetite for a much larger presentation.
Peter Fend at Essex Street, NOoSphere and Peanut Underground
In 2012, Essex Street presented work by no less than three artists still underserved by New York institutions: outré filmmaker Owen Land, politically engaged photographer Fred Lonidier and Peter Fend, a veteran of the New York art world whose work looked revelatory in a year in which New York and its art world was buffeted by a major hurricane. The show, "Über Die Grenze" ("out of bounds"), presented many of Mr. Fend's studies of—and solutions to—major ecological problems alongside some of his more unusual ideas, like his observation that the map around Iraq bears a striking resemblance to that of the Tri-State Area. After years of being presented piecemeal throughout the world, and only rarely in New York recently, a nice overview of his work could finally be seen in one place. Shows at the NOoSphere Gallery the Peanut Underground, delayed because of the Sandy-induced blackout downtown, further underscored the fact that Mr. Fend needs a large museum showcase—and soon.
Suzanne Duchamp at Francis Naumann Fine Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Yale University Art Gallery
Suzanne Duchamp probably comes up most often in histories of 20th-century art as the executor of her brother Marcel's 1919 sculpture Unhappy Readymade, along with her lover, the artist Jean Crotti. Marcel wrote to them from Buenos Aires that year, asking them to hang a geometry textbook outside on the balcony of their apartment in Paris to create one of his readymades. Suzanne was an active painter, and made a painting of that work. In 2012, New York and the surrounding area was rich with shows presenting her rarely seen art. Her abstract works—geometric-tinged pieces, often with allusions to machinery—are on view now in MoMA's brilliant "Inventing Abstraction" show and Yale's "Société Anonyme" show—and earlier in the year Francis M. Naumann Fine Art presented more of her work in ‘Duchamp Brothers & Sister’: ‘Works of Art,’ which led Times critic Holland Cotter to declare her "a figure who may warrant research and reappraisal." Suzanne, who experimented with both abstract and figurative art during her career, also comes up when the old theory is floated that Marcel's art shows his sexual obsession with her, but the less said about that the better. (Pictured is Suzanne Duchamp's 1921 Solitude entonnoir (Funnel of Solitude).)
Bill Walton at James Fuentes and JTT
Sculptor Bill Walton (1931–2010) had 17 solo shows in Philadelphia, but never one in New York, until two Lower East Side galleries, James Fuentes and a newcomer, JTT, decided to join forces for a show that ran from late February to April. Though rarely longer than 12 inches on a side, Walton's sculptures—assembled from bits of metal, slices of wood, the odd tin can—oozed a formidable presence. New Yorkers accustomed to thinking we get to see it all here (this writer included) were reacquainted with an uncomfortable reality: great things may be thriving just out of sight, a short train ride away.
Kiki Kogelnik at Simone Subal Gallery
When the superb traveling exhibition "Seductive Subversion: Woman Pop Artists 1958–1968" landed at the Brooklyn Museum in 2010, New Yorkers got to experience a small slice of the energetic, exuberant and sometimes eerie early Pop work of Austrian–born artist Kiki Kogelnik (1935–1997). Though she ran in the New York art world for much of her life, and designed and owned (with her husband, George Schwarz) a number of local restaurants, including Elephant and Castle and the Noho Star, she showed infrequently in the city. Simone Subal Gallery took a big step toward changing that by offered up a trove of her work from around that same thrilling period, from 1964 through 1970, this past fall. A retrospective in Austria, where she is better known, is on tap for this year. (Pictured is Kogelnik's 1965 painting The Human Touch).)
Etel Adnan at Callicoon Fine Arts
You fly for hours and and hours, and then take a train a few more to Documenta 13, in Kassel, Germany, and in Documenta Halle come across an absolutely stunning room with small, luminous abstraction paintings by an octogenarian Lebanese writer and artist named Etel Adnan. She's never had a show before in New York. And then, a few weeks later, you hear that Callicoon Fine Arts is showing a handful of those works, which frequently depict—with just a few carefully laid fields of color—Mount Tamalpais, near San Francisco. Ideally, a Dia-like institution would acquire a bunch of these and put them on view in a single location in the city for the next few decades.
Giorgio Griffa at Casey Kaplan
According to Turin, Italy–based artist Giorgio Griffa's CV, he had a one-person show at the Sonnabend Gallery in New York in 1970, and then did not show again in the city for more than 40 years, until he popped up in a group show at Casey Kaplan this past summer. In the fall, Kaplan offered up a survey of the artist's works, which often comprise just a few humble lines of paint on raw canvas—beautiful, confident stuff. When Sandy hit, it shuttered the show, but the gallery is reopening it on Jan. 10. “I have to do this for him,” Mr. Kaplan told The Times in November, of Mr. Griffa. “He’s been kind of written out of art history.” The show will have a full run, stretching to March 2.
Joshua Neustein at Untitled
After not appearing in New York commercial galleries for years, Joshua Neustein, who was born in Poland in 1940, was featured in a three-person show at Untitled alongside Sergej Jensen and N. Dash in 2011. In 2012 he got his solo show at the gallery. With a handful of canvases and sculptures that looked like they were in the process of being put together, or torn apart, the show looked—as many said at the time—like the handiwork of an ambitious young artist on the make.
Bernadette Corporation at Artists Space
I know, I know, suggesting that the Bernadette enterprise had somehow fallen into obscurity is absurd. But the fact is, with the exception of their austere 2009 show at Greene Naftali, it's been impossible for New Yorkers to see more than a piece or two here and there by the gang in recent years. Stories have been transmitted by word of mouth, stray Internet posts and magazine clips. But then, in September, Artists Space, with the aid of the group, put on a full-scale retrospective that laid out the collective's lengthy history using a long line of science-fair-style boards—a deliciously perverse approach for a venture that had trafficked in rumors and long thrived on an asymmetry of information. Their old Made in USA magazines were even released as e-books. Even with the spotlight shining, it all held up pretty well. On the last day of the show I heard a young art student type at the show ask a friend about this Reena character. He sounded confused. 'Was she real? Was the gallery real?' Do you remember how fun it was to see or learn about BC for the first time? What a thing!