Rainbow Dance
Film still
Courtesy the British Post Office; Len Lye Foundation;
Govett-Brewster Art Gallery and New Zealand Film Archive.

Birmingham / Ikon Gallery
Len Lye

Len Lye left his native New Zealand at age 25 for England, where he gained renown through the 1930s for his musical, vibrantly patterned “direct films,” unique, jazzy abstract animations painted, rather than shot, onto celluloid. Settling in New York in 1943, Lye expanded his practice to include kinetic metal sculptures motorized at scales up to 45 meters, which the artist referred to as “tangibles.” Lye has a well-established place in the annals of art cinema—genre godfather Stan Brakhage referred to his monochromatic four-minute scratched-emulsion work Free Radicals (1958) as an “almost unbelievably immense masterpiece”—but the artist’s first UK retrospective presented him as a 20th-century maverick across many media.

The Worst Condition is to Pass Under a Sword
Which is Not One’s Own

Poster image
Courtesy the artist.

London / Tate Modern
Michael Rakowitz

Would any historian dare to use theStar Wars movies to narrate the rise of Saddam Hussein’s roughly contemporaneous Iraqi dynasty? Artist Michael Rakowitz makes a compelling case for the psychological impact of George Lucas’ films on the Iraqi dictator and his two sons in a series of sculptures and drawings annotated with handwritten text. Rakowitz presents nearly unassailable visual evidence that the helmet design of elite Iraqi Fedayeen troops can be traced back to the shape of Darth Vader’s iconic headpiece, and he observes the similarities between posters for The Empire Strikes Back showing Darth Vader crossing two light-sabers above his head and the Hands of Victory Arch Hussein erected in Baghdad to commemorate Iraq’s victory over Iran.

Blue Period
From a series of color photographs, 50.8 × 76.2 cm each.
Courtesy Impronte Contemporary Art, Milan

Antwerp / Mukha
“Lonely at the Top”

An exhibition series focusing on former Soviet regions, “Lonely at the Top” began in 2009 with a show of Russian and Uzbek artists. The series continued in 2010 with artists from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Armenia whose works explore individual, national and cultural identity since the USSR’s collapse. Kyrgyz artist Vyacheslav Akhunov’s 1m² (2007) shows 500 matchboxes containing small-scale reproductions of drawings and sketches taken from his journals from 1976 to 1991, created as a miniature traveling exhibition of Soviet-era underground avant-garde art. Georgian artist Koka Ramishvili’s War From My Window (1991–92), a series of black-and-white photographs taken soon after Georgia’s declaration of independence, depicts the artist’s seemingly calm neighborhood gradually descending into conflict.

Uncertain Pleasure
18-channel video installation, dimensions variable.
Photo by Scott Groller.
Courtesy REDCAT, Los Angeles.

Los Angeles / REDCAT
Zhang Peili & Zhu Jia

“Not Only Time” brought together new and past works by Hangzhou-based Zhang Peili and Beijing-based Zhu Jia, two experimental video and photography pioneers in late-1980s and early-1990s China. The artists’ iconic works, such as Zhang’s absurdist videoDocument on Hygiene No. 3 (1991), showing the artist bathing a chicken, and Zhu’s Forever (1994), made by attaching a video camera to the wheel of tricycle and riding it through the city, challenged authoritative politics and socioeconomic development. In more recent pieces, the artists explore themes of individuality, time and loss of innocence and idealism, as in the newly commissioned video by Zhang, One Line, One Kilometer (2010), and Zhu’s two-channel video Steaming (2010), about the personal expenditure of time, energy and effort.

Nigar Cinema Karachi
Black-and-white photograph, hand-painted in watercolor by Shaukat Mahmood, 61.2 × 46 cm.
Courtesy the artist.

London / Whitechapel Gallery
“Where Three Dreams Cross”

An ambitious survey of photographers from the modern nations of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh,  “Where Three Dreams Cross” rejected colonialist depictions of the Subcontinent, instead presenting all manner of photographic images by native-born journalists, amateurs, studio photographers and contemporary artists. Comprehensiveness came at the cost of failing to articulate crucial semiological differences between these genres and how photography, as a medium, can be variously deployed. Nonetheless, the sprawling exhibition, divided into five thematic sections (the Portrait, Performance, Family, Street and Body Politic), gave a sense of the camera’s vast potential, from the 19th-century hand-painted family portraits by Khubi Ram Gopilal to Momena Jalil’s brutal depictions of child prostitutes in Kolkata and the compelling 20th-century self-portraiture of Umrao Singh Sher-Gil.

To read the rest of ArtAsiaPacific’s picks of the best museum, gallery and festival exhibitions of 2010, purchase the Almanac at our online store.