The Manhattan Art Review's Best & Worst Art Shows of 2021

- Diana al-Hadid, Alma Allen, Huma Bhabha, JB Blunk, James Lee Byars, Saint Clair Cemin, Max Ernst, Vanessa German, Rachel Harrison, Robert Indiana, Isamu Noguchi, Beverly Pepper, Per Kirkeby, Ugo Rondinone, Tom Sachs, Bosco Sodi, Marie Watt, Premodern artists - Between The Earth And Sky - Kasmin
- Nuotama Bodomo, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Francisco Goya, Melchior Grossek, Dorothea Lange, Louise Lawler, Sherrie Levine, Bill Miller, Diane Nerwen, John Schabel, Jim Shaw - Everybody Dies! - Carriage Trade
- Deana Lawson - Sikkema Jenkins & Co.
- Terry Winters - Table Of Contents - Matthew Marks
- Elise Duryee-Browner - Vibe of the Era - Gandt
- Lee Lozano - Drawings 1959-64 - Karma
- Louise Lawler - Lights Off, After Hours, In The Dark - Metro Pictures
- John Currin - Memorial - Gagosian
- Jasper Johns - New Works On Paper - Matthew Marks
- Maria Lassnig - The Paris Years, 1960-68 - Petzel
- Jacqueline De Jong - Border-Line - Ortuzar Projects

Let's be honest, the ratings don't mean much. They're just a shorthand for my feelings towards a show, and my criteria for rating shifts over time, not to mention the influence of my mood in a particular moment. Thus the best shows from this year aren't simply the highest rated, they also do something other than being successful exhibitions. Six of the ten shows are of new work, but all of them felt new in a way that, to my memory, no other shows did this year. New is an inarticulate word, like novel, fresh, innovative, etc., so a better term might be "alive." I saw plenty of good historical art, but, like museums, the effect is a bit like seeing pinned butterflies: beautiful, but dead. I'm not a Tony Conrad/Henry Flynt museum abolitionist, but I might be if I lived in New York in the '60s when more than ten art shows a year has some life to them. As it is, it's better to be reminded that art used to have some vitality than it is to be left with what we have now and risk forgetting altogether. What all these shows have in common, if nothing else, is that they felt irreducible, pushed by their own internal forces to a place outside of the reach of any easy categorization. What exactly that place is is a question beyond the scope of language, but in my defense all art should go beyond language, even if it only seldom does. The images that stick out in my mind are the ones I feel I understand the least, like the barely-there but still adequate layout of the Duryee-Browner show, or Johns' apparently now-infamous combination of a map of the universe combined with a shunga print, which aside from the surprise of pornography struck me as perhaps the most contemporary image I've seen all year, whatever that means. That a 91 year-old is the one that did it is also something I don't understand.

- Jay Chung and Q Takeki Maeda - Bad Driver - Essex Street
- Angharad Williams & Mathis Gasser - Hergest: Trem - Swiss Institute
- Darja Bajagić, Gretchen Bender, Karin Davie, Nico Day, Cheryl Donegan, Bill Jacobson, Gary Stephan, Michael St. John, Mark Verabioff - I was looking at the black and white world (it was so exciting) - Ashes/Ashes
- Richard Prince - Family Tweets - Gagosian
- New Red Order - Feel At Home Here - Artists Space
- Avery Singer - Reality Ender - Hauser & Wirth
- Joe W. Speier, Dani Arnica, Jamie Lynn Klein, Jake Shore, Eric Schmid, Hunter Hunt-Hendrix, Walter Smith, Jack Lawler, Devon Lowman, Ryan Forester, Brock Bierly - Henry Fool - Triest
- Julian Schnabel - Self-Portraits of Others - The Brant Foundation

Even the most memorably bad show is less memorable than the most unremarkable good show; bad art is bad because there's nothing interesting about it. If it was interesting it would be good; hence camp. These shows only stood out by the amount of attention I didn't give to them. Even that Triest show never kept me up at night, although the same doesn't seem to be true for others involved.

Postscript - Correction:
- Frank Bowling - London/New York - Hauser & Wirth - ****

This is the only review I've done yet that I've fully doubled back on. I was turned off by the continents in his paintings at the time as some kind of stupid commercialism, but in retrospect it's actually a very funny kind of stupid and he's a talented painter with a distinct approach to abstraction. I wouldn't do another review just off of photos (Hauser's documentation is weirdly incomplete anyway), but I do wish I could see it again.