10. Picasso: Minotaurs and Matadors
Picasso the man, the matador, the bull and the minotaur were interchangeable presences in a show beginning with a tiny work from 1889, and ending with furious and absurd matadors and toreros painted in 1970. The core of the exhibition focused on works produced during the 1930s and 40s. Picasso’s 1942 head of a bull made from a bicycle seat with handlebars for horns, lumpen blokes on the beach, a sculpted faun with a body smaller than his erection – olé!
9. Rachel Whiteread
Tate Britain, London
Hot water bottles, beds, the spaces under chairs, the imprints of doors, windows and stairwells: Whiteread remakes the spaces within and around objects and places, whole rooms and entire buildings. Filling the Duveen sculpture court, and a suite of galleries opened up into one huge room, Whiteread’s show is filled with absences and solidified spaces, surfaces and volumes. The surprise is how various it all is, the constant shift of density and mass, physicality and presence. Until 21 January
8. Chris Ofili: Weaving Magic
National Gallery, London
Ofili turned a room at the National Gallery into an idyll. A nightclub mural of curvaceous, moustached floozies paraded and lounged around the walls in pearly grey light. The centrepiece was a large tapestry triptych, an impossible Eden before the fall. Ghanaian Italian footballer Mario Balotelli poured the drinks for a loving couple on the beach. Silent music played. This was a makeshift myth set in the tropics, liquid, languorous and lush, as vivid as a Technicolor musical.
7. Arthur Jafa: Love is the Message, the Message is Death
Store Studios, London
Perched on the roof of a brutalist office block, with Kanye West’s Ultralight Beam as its thundering and ecstatic soundtrack, Jafa’s exhibition sucked all the energy out of the show on the floors below. America’s iniquities, the beatings and riots, the songs and shouts of individuals and collective lives were given voice in this fierce and fractured, marvellously edited mix of found footage. A history lesson you could dance to.
6. The Boat is Leaking. The Captain Lied
Fondazione Prada, Venice
This has haunted me for months. Three hours was not enough in this mad melange of film, abandoned theatre sets, city corners, a church. There were control panels, there were ruins. A world out of sync, this collaboration – between Alexander Kluge, pioneer of postwar new German cinema, artist Thomas Demand, set and costume designer Anna Viebrock and curator Ugo Kittelmann – was a wonderfully nightmarish fiction. This is what Prada’s money and extreme talent can do.
5. Anne Imhof: Faust
German Pavilion, Venice Biennale
Imhof created a disquieting space, for her collaborators and audience alike. I haven’t a clue what this all meant – with the patrolling, fenced dogs outside, the moments of nudity and hubbub, suppressed violence and fashion posing. Small fires were lit, people were sluiced down, guitars played, people crawled about under the raised glass floor and climbed the walls. Going back every day for a week, I never saw the same thing twice.
4. America After the Fall
Royal Academy, London
Grant Wood’s American Gothic presided over this brilliant look at American painting from the Wall Street crash to the second world war. Enormous variety, from modernist abstraction to rural, regional romanticism, Harlem nights, gay cruising, dance marathons, lowering factories and railyards, sharecroppers in the field: it was all there. So too were Jackson Pollock and Philip Guston, painting in the wings. Meanwhile, Edward Hopper’s cinema usherette waits, for everything to be over.
3. Rodney Graham: That’s Not Me
The Vancouver-based trickster’s art filled the Baltic with images and films, as well as his own laconic music (he’s an accomplished singer and musician). But most of all, he filled the place with images of himself, as stoical lighthouse keeper, 1960s abstract painter, a camera-shop owner, and passer-by on the street. Canoeist, stilt-walking plasterer, sous chef, a dupe in a wild west bar, Graham the artist is the best guise of all.
2. Cézanne Portraits
National Portrait Gallery, London
Cézanne wasn’t all about the landscape, as this tough-minded exhibition shows. People in their surroundings, ordinary as rural life; people and the shapes they made, in the folds of their clothes and in the spaces on the canvas. Whoever Cézanne was painting – his wife at her sewing, his uncle in a succession of guises, a taciturn peasant, himself at work or in a bowler hat – we watch him thinking, a painting being made.
Tate Modern, London
A whole world unravelled, room after room, in this complex exhibition. Our hunger for images is insatiable and Tillmans gave us encounters with people, things, places, views, close-ups, emergencies, even the deconstructed machinery of photography itself. The exhibition dared to deal with beauty and the everyday, as well as the whole gamut of photographic manners – from street photography to formal portraiture, land and sky and seascape, the eroticism of the body and a dead colour printer disembowelled on the studio floor.
It was an exhibition punctuated by interruptions and eruptions: a gigantic pair of testicles dangled; Tillmans’ own reflection looked back, blurrily and fractured, in a scarred metal mirror in Reading Gaol; a helicopter searchlight scoured the sea for survivors. Story after story unfolded, each one provoked by the connections we make as we look. Go back a second time, and the stories we tell ourselves are different.
Tillmans’ exhibition was much more than a parade of passing images or a portfolio of themes unpacked. Handled with a great sense of pace and drama, scale and focus, distance and proximity, the artist paced our journey through 14 rooms. One space, filled with tables, presented his truth study centre as a kind of tabletop scrapbook of archived articles and images. It felt like an emergency room for fake news.
In another, blue room, we could rest and even dance. In a third, we watched a video of Tillmans doing a boxer’s feinting dance before a mark on the wall while, on a second screen, his shadow danced across a wall in Tehran. Casting shadows and bringing things into the light, Tillmans displays an endless curiosity and purpose, a sense of responsibility and a poetic, playfulness and desire. My show of the year.