As a young art history student a few years ago, I worried that I was living through the decline of the art world. I was so caught up in my love for long-dead artists that I couldn't notice the amazing work being produced all around me. It didn't help that I was a bit of a purist, having read too much Clement Greenberg at an impressionable age. I scorned any work that included technology more advanced than oil paint. Luckily, studying architecture and moving to New York obliterated my pretentions of disillusionment. The art world now is thriving despite the recession; genres and disciplines are morphing and blending, creating work unlike anything we've seen before. Here are ten artists who've made the past decade exciting--I can't wait to see what they do with the next ten years.
Over the past few years Mika Rottenberg has created a sweaty, claustrophobic world crammed with amazonian women, globs of sticky food, and oddly sinister house plants. This wonderfully prolific artist builds large structures made up of tiny rooms connected by trapdoors and portholes. Physically extraordinary women sit within, performing repetitive tasks that transform their bodily by-products into consumer goods. In the video Mary's Cherries, for example, a women grows long red acrylic fingernails, clips them off, and drops them through a hole to another woman, who makes them into gleaming maraschino cherries. Rottenberg's world is fully realized, unsettling and at times disgusting. Her upcoming sol show at SFMOMA will surely be one of the most exciting art events of 2010.
I saw Cyprien Gaillard's stunning video piece Desniansky Raion at the New Museum's Younger Than Jesus show, and I recognized many of the themes that inspire my own work: modernist architecture, grainy video, lights in the darkness, and cathartic violence. Gaillard is preoccupied with monumentality. His videos focus on the monolithic slabs of housing projects, and the quixotic tragedy of the Crazy Horse monument. He questions the purpose of such grandiose objects, and revels in their destruction. The sheer sensual grandeur of his pieces has an eerie beauty that entrances the viewer.
This year Malawian artist Esau Mwamwaya released an album called The Very Best for free online, along with crudely-named DJ Radioclit. Mwamwaya embodies all the best elements of our global remix-mashup-mixtape culture: he remixes familar hipster songs like "Paper Planes" with sweet, charming vocals. The Very Best may not be groundbreaking, but its effortless beats and shout-outs to Malawi make globalization seem like a good thing. Also, his version of "Will You Be There" actually brought tears to my eyes by elevating the song to a religious, nostalgic celebration.
Of all the architects who design "green" buildings, Eugene Tsui is the most dedicated to replicating natural principles in constructions. Dr. Tsui's proposals include a building that opens and closes like a clam, floating land bridge spanning the Strait of Gibraltar, and a completely self sufficient two-mile high megacity. Tsui's buildings predict a future in which nature and culture and intertwined. His wildly imaginative, inventive buildings put other supposedly cutting edge architects to shame. Dr. Tsui is also an accomplished fashion designer and Olympic athlete-his website, tdrinc.com, is a treasure chest of wonders.
Julie Mehretu is the savior of contemporary abstract painting. She recieved a MacArthur Genius Grant for work that simultaneously recall Abstract Expressionsim and communiques from the distant future. Mehretu's huge, frantic canvases swarm with activity. Architectural plans of sprawling cities fly through storm clouds of color and patterns. Neon arrows pierce primary colored car dealership flags. The combination of a traditional medium with the psychotic energy of the Information Age is fascinating.
I picked up Cesar Aira's How I Became a Nun partly because the cover featured a recommendation from Roberto Bolano. Aira is a prolific but understranslated Argentinian author who writes unsettling, irrational stories. How I Became a Nun perfectly captures the everyday insanity of childhood; the narrator blithely decribes hideous events and reveals his (or her...) inability to gauge normality. Aira is a fantastic young writer, at least as promising as Bolano was. I only hope he can be recognized as such without having to die tragically.
A successful comeback is a rare victory. Too many stars merely coast on fans' goodwill without producing any quality new material. Of course, Grace Jones is rare in every way, and her new album is the work of an artist in her prime. Her style has developed since the seventies: the sinister machinistic voice is the same, but songs like "William's Blood" show more emotional depth and passion. Jones' return makes it clear where robotic, frightful creations like Lady Gaga and Beyonce's bionic hand get their inspiration. The video for "Corporate Cannibal" embodies the combination of sexiness and menace that made Grace an icon. I'm so glad she's back.
Many contemporary artists use aesthetics to comment on the effect of the internet on real life; Cao Fei transferred her work into virtual reality, using Second Life as her medium. RMB City, an architectural installation within the geography of Second Life, challenges our notions of what art is and how we absorb it. Second Life users can explore this ramshackle pile of buildings that jams iconic Chinese structures into a Katamari Damacy-like mass. Fei's commentary on China is interesting, but her willingness to use technology is groundbreaking. I hope other artists can move beyond Kid Pix graphics and truly confront the effects of the internet on art.
Pascale Marthine Tayou
Pascale Marthine Tayou is a Cameroonian sculptor whose signature is the heap: colorful masses of stuff crowd his shows and spill across the floor. He uses plastic bags, gum wrappers, flags, and toothbrushes to create frenzied clutter. Tayou's work is appealing, even cute, but its obssessive proliferation suggests the unhealthy power of material culture. His work is still relatively unknown in the U.S., and I look forward to seeing more of it soon. His website is incredible, an overstimulating masterpiece in its own right: http://www.pascalemarthinetayou.com
Like Tayou, Nick Cave's work thrives on colorful excess. Trained as a dancer, Cave makes full body suits that create sound and motion. The suits call to mind a host of cultural traditions and images including Lucha Libre, African and Native American ceremonial costumes, Star Wars creatures, and Catholic penitentes. Each suit is painstakingly embroidered and embellished, with such diverse materials as gym socks, birdcages, cheerleader pom-poms, and twigs. Cave's work is primal and sumptuous, combining the mythic past with surreal luxury. He brings ritual into contemporary art without a hint of irony or mockery; he truly is enthralled by the possibilities of motion and sound.