The best and worst of 2009: Art exhibits including 'Anne Truitt' at Hirshhorn

Hometown art: The Hirshhorn's Anne Truitt show was elegant and attractive.
Hometown art: The Hirshhorn's Anne Truitt show was elegant and attractive. (By Jonathan Ernst For The Washington Post; Artwork Copyright The Truitt Estate)
Sunday, December 20, 2009


Anne Truitt: Perception and Reflection at the Smithsonian's Hirshhorn Museum. We knew this Washingtonian's pared-down abstractions were elegant and attractive, but not that, gathered in a single show, they would turn out to be so playful and complex and profound.

Terri Weifenbach: Woods at Civilian Art Projects. A show of fine-art photographs of suburban forests that achieved the rarest of things: the avoidance of most of the cliches of fine-art photography.

Roni Horn aka Roni Horn at the Whitney Museum of American Art. About as subtle and sophisticated as art can get: Pairs of barely different photos capture the instability of things.

Dan Graham: Beyond. More stunning complexity at the Whitney. Graham's installations made of mirrors and plate glass were so compelling that my review barely mentioned the completely different works -- videos about rock-and-roll; early examples of performance art -- that have proved just as influential.

Man Ray, African Art and the Modernist Lens at the Phillips Collection. Real intellectual substance, plus great objects from two different traditions.

Inventing Marcel Duchamp: The Dynamics of Portraiture at the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery. Mostly, I believe that thinking about artists gets in the way of thinking about art. Yet this show made clear that Duchamp's art was him.

Pride of Place: Dutch Cityscapes of the Golden Age at the National Gallery of Art. A fascinating look at how the growing cities of the Netherlands got reflected in that country's art. It also gave some unexpected insights into the new kinds of art that worked best to show those cities.

Worst (Moments)

Anne Truitt: Perception and Reflection at the Hirshhorn must have been truly great . . . because its sculptures managed to overcome a fatally bad installation. The high-design plinths that "protected" the Truitts in fact undermined them. The Truitt estate apparently insisted on the protection; the Hirshhorn should have flexed its muscle and said "no plinths or no show."

Leo Villareal's "Multiverse," made of more than 40,000 flashing lights, was installed in a basement corridor at the National Gallery in 2008 . . . and some art lovers have been waiting for it to come down ever since. This year, the gallery announced its purchase of the work as a permanent installation. "Multiverse" isn't ugly. It's just so depressingly shallow, compared to the great art this museum ought to promote.

Alma Thomas's "Watusi (Hard Edge)" (briefly) at the White House. Thomas's 1963 reworking of a famous Matisse, made in the grand tradition of one artist riffing on another, is a nice picture. Too bad the Obamas never got to contemplate it. After they'd announced their plans to hang the Thomas, right-wing bloggers started throwing around accusations of "plagiarism" -- or even more absurdly, of copyright infringement -- that seem to have got it taken down. (The White House said it "didn't fit.")

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