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Michael O'Sullivan's Top 10 Exhibits

By Michael O'Sullivan, Washington Post staff writer
Friday, December 31, 2004; Page WE30

1. "The Quilts of Gee's Bend." Sewn together by craftswomen from rural southwestern Alabama from scraps of denim work clothes, corduroy of many hues and whatever else was lying around the house, these boldly cockeyed quilts, on view at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, could have gone head to head with anything from the museum's collection of contemporary abstract painting -- and won handily.

2. "Douglas Gordon." From a video depicting the fingers of a man's hand appearing to, er, copulate with his own fist to "24 Hour Psycho," in which the Hitchcock thriller is slowed down to two frames per second, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden's exhibition of the contemporary Scottish artist's conceptual yet eye-catching work demonstrated the strangeness of the familiar.

Yancey Chapel in Sawyerville, Ala., is shown in the National Building Museum's "Samuel Mockbee and the Rural Studio: Community Architecture," which highlighted works by students in the innovative Auburn University architecture program. (Timothy Hursley)

_____Memorable Moments_____
The Year in Music (The Washington Post, Dec 31, 2004)
Richard Harrington's Top 10 (The Washington Post, Dec 31, 2004)
Geoffrey Himes's Top 10 (The Washington Post, Dec 31, 2004)
Mike Joyce's Top 10 (The Washington Post, Dec 31, 2004)
Mark Jenkins's Top 10 (The Washington Post, Dec 31, 2004)
Desson Thomson's Top 10 Films (The Washington Post, Dec 31, 2004)
. . . And the 10 Worst Films (The Washington Post, Dec 31, 2004)
The Best Bites of 2004 (The Washington Post, Dec 31, 2004)
Looking Back: Bugs, Bars, Poker and More (The Washington Post, Dec 31, 2004)

3. "Drawings of Jim Dine." There's nothing pure about Dine's drawings, which incorporate bits of sculpture and painting, pop and classicism. Still, as the contemporary draftsman's show at the National Gallery of Art proved, there's something in Dine's blend of virtuosic technique and dark, smoky romanticism that lends his work on paper a surprising, enduring heft.

4. "Samuel Mockbee and the Rural Studio: Community Architecture." The National Building Museum's examination of the Auburn University architecture program, co-founded by the late artist, architect and educator -- whose students are taught that building solutions should come from within the community, not without -- was full of examples of design featuring wit, good sense and boundless imagination.

5. "Sally Mann: What Remains." Death is a difficult subject. Its ugliness, its frightening beauty, its inevitability are enough to make anyone squirm. Mann's show at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, with its photographs of decomposing human remains, Civil War sites, the bones of a beloved family pet and portraits of the artist's children, stirred up thoughts about mortality -- hers, mine and ours -- even as it spelled out a message about the endurance of love that cast these predictably disturbing images in an oddly reassuring light.

6. "Thinking Inside the Box: The Art of Andrew Krieger." The Washington-based artist's retrospective featured more than 100 drawings, etchings, box constructions and surreal "mail poems" squeezed into the Rotunda of the Corcoran Gallery of Art. While it could feel a little like a bric-a-brac shop at times, the crowded, flea-market flavor of the room underscored Krieger's themes of fading memory, miscommunication and the inadequacy of technology.

7. "Kerry James Marshall: One True Thing, Meditations on Black Aesthetics." Featuring photography, painting, sculpture, video and installation, the MacArthur "genius" grant winner's topic-hopping exhibition at the Baltimore Museum of Art was, despite its title, neither singular nor especially true. That is to say, it tackled themes of slavery, multiculturalism, gentrification, cultural assimilation and art, offering up not answers but questions that you were challenged to answer on your own.

8. "Calder Miro: A New Space for the Imagination." The subtitle of this artistic pairing at the Phillips Collection is intended to be taken both figuratively and literally. On one level, it refers to the creative interchange that went on between these two longtime friends, while on another it refers to the museum building itself, whose renovated Goh Annex makes the perfect setting to see both of these familiar modernists in a new light. Through Jan. 23.

9. "Treasures." In a year when the notion of "nonhegemonic curating" (to use the New York Times' wonky phrase) took center stage with the opening of the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian, the National Museum of African Art's latest exhibition -- the first in a series showcasing works from the permanent collection and other private collections -- shows how to do the label- and context-free thing right. That is to say, in moderation, and with an eye for clean, contemporary gallery design that lets visitors savor each and every object for the gem it is. Through Aug. 15.

10. "Cai Guo-Qiang: Traveler." The two-part show, featuring the rotting carcass of a boat resting on a sea of broken white porcelain at the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, and large-scale drawings, in burnt gunpowder, at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, references two kinds of traveling: time and distance. The work, by the Chinese-born, New York-based artist whose projects often involve explosives and fireworks, is impressive, in a monumental, big-idea kind of way, yet there's as much here to chew on as there is to look at. Through April 24.

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