Year in Review: 2023 

December 31, 2023

With almost a year of reviewing behind us, we asked our editorial board what exhibitions stood out to them in 2023. Here's what they reported back. 

Martin Wong: Malicious Mischief, KW Institute for Contemporary Art, Berlin

February 25–May 14, 2023

A particularly memorable exhibition in 2023 was the extraordinary Martin Wong survey at KW in Berlin. Subsequently travelling to Camden Arts Centre (London) and currently on view at the Stedelijk Museum (Amsterdam), the exhibition offered a comprehensive overview of Martin Wong’s oeuvre, which has been marginalized in histories of American Art—perhaps due to its eccentric pictorial language as well as its blatant queerness and Chinese Americanness. The exhibition traced the full arc of Wong’s art practice, from his artistic beginnings in West Coast countercultural communities of San Francisco and Eureka in the 1960s and 1970s, to the consolidation of his painterly style in response to the urban landscape of New York City in the 1980s and 1990s, and through his final fantastical paintings of American Chinatown scenes before his death from AIDS-related illness. 

The scope of Martin Wong: Malicious Mischief foregrounded the numerous interrelated topics and visual tropes that circulated throughout Wong’s art across painting, drawing, and sculpture: hippy countercultures and queer subcultures, Chinese American iconography and history, ideographic languages (Chinese calligraphy, American Sign Language, star constellations, graffiti), and urban dilapidation (shuttered storefronts, the reoccurring bricks of the Lower East Side). In a striking and unsettling body of paintings from the late 1980s and early 1990s, Wong portrayed prison inmates, policemen, and the interiors of jails as homoerotic fantasies, conjoining a critique of the racial-carceral state with an unsparing fetishization of power hierarchies. Through its contextualized presentation of Martin Wong’s oeuvre, the exhibition made his works accessible while elevating their wondrous strangeness and complexity. Hopefully it will contribute to new scholarship on Wong and encourage continued engagements with less acknowledged Asian American and Asian diasporic art histories in 2024. 

—Carlos Kong

Martin Wong, Tell My Troubles to the Eight Ball (Eureka), 1978–81. Courtesy of the Martin Wong Foundation and P.P.O.W, New York © Martin Wong Foundation

Anna Uddenberg, Continental Breakfast, Meredith Rosen Gallery

March 18–April 29, 2023

I’m on my way to meet a date at the Met for their late-night hours. He’s running late, so I text him to meet me across the street at the opening performance of Anna Uddenberg’s Continental Breakfast at Meredith Rosen Gallery. The space has been transformed into a sterile waiting room, complete with fluorescent lighting, wall-to-wall blue carpeting, and red-belted stanchions for queuing. Behind the stanchions are three sculptures that evoke items and devices one might find at an airport, a hotel, or a gynecologist’s office—metal detectors, lounge seating, stirrups. Two female performers wearing flight-attendant-like uniforms direct the movement of the crowd. They stare down the crowd with such intensity that I feel deeply unsettled. Every few minutes they let some people pass behind the rope, allowing a different perspective of the installation. The room is completely silent the entire time; the performers don’t speak but communicate with blunt body language—gesturing at visitors to obey them. They take turns activating the sculptures throughout the gallery. One straps herself tightly into a seat-like contraption, which forces her back to arch, her legs to splay open, and her arms to constrict. The spectacle is at once disturbing and arousing. This affective juxtaposition is distinctive to Uddenberg’s practice: She connects the power dynamics of BDSM to our collective submission to the technocapitalist objects we interact with daily. My date arrives to meet me, and I realize I forgot to warn him about what he’s about to encounter. I watch from the other side of the room as he apprehensively submits to the performers’ orders. A sense of both pleasure and unease runs through my body. These twin desires of control and submission feel acutely familiar and linger with me for the rest of the night. 

Anna Cahn

Anna Uddenberg, Continental Breakfast, 2023. Installation view, Meredith Rosen Gallery, New York. Photo: Dario Lasagni.

Delcy Morelos, El abrazo, Dia Chelsea

October 5, 2023–July 20, 2024

Delcy Morelos’s exhibition consists of two installations, each taking up its own gallery. For Cielo terrenal, the first work that viewers encounter at Dia, Morelos lined the room with soil from the Black Dirt Region of the Hudson Valley. The dark, textured material stretches across the floor and up the walls of the room, sharply abbreviated at the high-water mark from flooding caused by Hurricane Sandy in 2012. Barely lit, the array of objects on the ground—debris from past Dia exhibitions as well as ceramics from the Amazonas and Tolima departments in Colombia—is hard to make out. While those assemblages closest to the path leading viewers into Morelos’s obsidian field are visible, as one stares out into her constructed environment these objects become silhouettes, then disappear altogether.

El abrazo, the second installation (from which Morelos’s exhibition takes its name), is an immense, geometrical swath of earth hovering over the floor. The beguiling discrepancy between the obvious heft of Morelos’s form and this illusion of weightlessness is heightened by the artist’s use of cinnamon, clove, and copaiba, producing a rapturous and largely unidentifiable aroma in the gallery space. The sculpture itself, whose smooth sides compete with sprigs of hay jutting out towards the viewer, is partially made up of clay from the area surrounding Dia Beacon. In this way, both installations relate closely to the museum complex’s architectural, geographical, and aesthetic history. The forms themselves in Cielo terrenal and El abrazo demonstrate an affinity with—and, with Morelos’s employment of organic material, Indigenous epistemologies, and an expanded sensorium, a deformation of—the land art and minimal sculpture Dia is known to steward. Beyond these art historical, morphological comparisons, however, Morelos’s exhibition asks deeper questions about institutional and aesthetic approaches to natural form, embodiment, and land occupancy, forging a poetic oscillation between work and frame that was sorely missed in 2023.

—Blake Oetting

Delcy Morelos, Cielo terrenal (Earthly Heaven), 2023. © Delcy Morelos. Photo: Bill Jacobson Studio, New York

Delcy Morelos, El abrazo (The Embrace), 2023. © Delcy Morelos. Photo: Bill Jacobson Studio, New York

Joan Baez: I Am a Noise, Karen O’Connor, Miri Navatsky, and Maeve O’Boyle


Joan Baez: I Am a Noise excavates the inner life of its subject: singer, songwriter, activist, and folk legend Joan Baez. The film, originally intended to follow Baez on her farewell tour as she prepared for retirement, drastically changed course once she set the filmmakers loose upon a personal archive previously locked up in a storage unit—material Baez herself had largely avoided perusing. This staggering archive turned out to contain everything from recordings of family therapy sessions to decades of illustrated diaries. Karen O’Connor, Miri Navatsky, and Maeve O’Boyle combed through this material with discernable care in order to produce a film that feels almost unreal—such an intimate glimpse into the mind and heart of an icon like Baez shouldn’t be possible. At the center of the film is trauma; it contends with Baez’s nearly life-long struggles with mental health and the childhood sexual abuse that Baez and her sisters began to try and understand well into their adulthood. The details of this past trauma remain blurry and uncertain, not entirely resolved. And though that might frustrate viewers, it also seems an earnest extension of the film’s interest, first and foremost, in the crowded mind of its subject. Much of the film’s narrative is told not through talking heads in the present but by voices from the past, preserved in audio tapes and home movies, letters and journal entries. Baez’s drawings, made over the course of her life, are set into motion by animation studio Eat the Danger, and they allow Baez’s thoughts and feelings to become visual, at moments when words fail. Though the filmmakers incorporate ample other footage from Baez’s long and storied life as well, the most moving moments in the movie come from the personal material. Because, though the film covers the basic events of Baez’s career, it is much more attuned to her own experiences than to the events she lived through.

Marina Molarsky-Beck

Joan Baez: I Am a Noise, 2023. A Magnolia Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures. 

Art for the Millions: American Culture and Politics in the 1930s, Metropolitan Museum of Art

September 6–December 10, 2023 

Investigating the resonances between the social and political experiences of the Great Depression in the United States and those of our current moment, Art for the Millions brought together an impressive range of artworks and objects—drawn heavily from the Met’s own collection—that visualized the nation in crisis. 

The first room, titled “Leftist Politics and Labor,” displayed an enchanting selection of prints and ephemera, mostly produced by artists supported through the Federal Art Project. Prints, in their reproducibility, are of course inherently sympathetic to democratic engagement, but these works also suggested that the medium is particularly well-suited to articulate these politics visually: their highly sensitive renderings of form—rich highlights, dense shadows, palpable textures—give way to intimate encounters with their subjects. One wall presented a cluster of vignettes of bodies laboring—track repairing, rock drilling, asphalt laying, dock clearing. Nearby, the worker merged with the machine in Hugo Gellert’s illustrations for a 1934 edition of Marx’s Capital and in Ida York Abelman’s Man and Machine (ca. 1939), directly adjacent to a clip of Charlie Chaplin churning through gears in Modern Times (1936). At the center of the gallery was a display of communist literature, asserting the definitive ideological impetus behind much of this work and reminding visitors of the strong but often neglected history of working-class political struggle in the US. The rest of the exhibition filled in the broader context of this moment with artworks depicting landscapes and traditions from distinct regions in the country and with material culture—magazines, silk scarves, public service posters, lamps, radios, and a meat slicer. 

With recent museum unionization efforts in mind, the exhibition offered a glimpse of what an alternative to our thoroughly privatized cultural sector could look like, recalling the one fleeting moment in which the US invested in art and its workers—though, admittedly, it’s hard to imagine achieving this scale of public investment ever again. 

Genevieve Lipinsky de Orlov

Ida York Abelman, Man and Machine, ca. 1939. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

These texts were supported by a Public Humanities Grant from Humanities NY