Category Archives: John Ashbery

Top 5 art shows which I failed to see in 2010

The season of list-making is upon us. But lists, according to US novelist Don Delillo, are a form of ‘cultural hysteria’. As if the impending winter festival wasn’t hysterical enough.

This year, rather than try and minimise the anxiety, I thought I’d crank things up a notch or two by compiling a list of the best shows which I never got round to this year. It is a shocker.

  • #1: Chris Ofili at Tate Britain
    Big draw: major survey, voice of a generation.
    Small excuse: January must have caught me napping.
  • #2: Jenny Holzer at Baltic
    Big draw: we need slogans more than ever.
    Small excuse: it was 292 miles away.
  • #3: Gauguin at Tate Modern
    Big draw: first showing in more than 50 years.
    Small excuse: there’s still time, but it’s 15 quid.
  • #4: Laura Belém at the Liverpool Biennial
    Big draw: showpiece of the UK’s biggest Biennial.
    Small excuse: got massively waylaid by video work.
  • #5: The The Things is (For 3) at Milton Keynes Gallery
    Big draw: mystery artist, playful anecdote-worthy work.
    Small excuse: two trips to MK in 12 months already.

The irony of this list, of course, is that it worries me there are plenty more shows out there which didn’t make the cut. Possibly, there are even better shows I, and perhaps you, failed to see.

It makes me think of John Ashbery’s epic poem of the 1970s, Self Portrait in a Convex Mirror. One line has always stuck: “the dread of not getting out/before having seen the whole collection.”

But the fact is, no one can see the whole collection. Ashbery devotes more than 550 lines to just one painting by Parmagianino, and still there is probably more that could be said.

All of which explains why lists are so popular at this time of year. You mention the title, jot down a thought, and move on. To respond more fully to the avalanche is unthinkable. Erm…merry Christmas!

Comments welcome, as ever, if there’s maybe something you wish you saw this year and it’s giving you angst. Get it off your chest.