The Top 5 Artworks of 2010

Yes, I know it's 2014! This was published in Uptown in January 2011, as my “2010 year-in-review” of the art world

As we look back at 2010, it’s important to celebrate humanity’s greatest artistic achievements. Although innumerable artworks were worthy of notice, five towered over all others. Drawing across many fields of art, here are the greatest artworks of the past year.

5. Arnold Schwarzenegger Continues and Concludes His Governorship

Although his term has not begun, with the election of Edmund Gerald (Jerry) Brown, Jr., the governorship of Arnold Schwarzenegger more or less drew to a close in 2010. Without a doubt it was one of acting’s finest performances — so convincing that the utterly unqualified Schwarzenegger was actually given the reins of one of the world’s largest economies from Nov. 2003 to Jan. 2011, not to mention control of various state programs.

Those who know Schwarzenegger’s acting only from movies such as Red Sonja and Junior were surprised by the vigour with which he began his political acting career. But the seeds were always there. In Batman & Robin, he uttered that immortal line: “In this universe, there’s only one absolute: everything freezes!” It sounded like total gibberish, but now we can look back and see that he was practicing, even then, for a career as one of America’s most powerful political figures. (Look, if you don’t see the connection, I don’t know what to say — you just don’t appreciate art.)

4. Lil Wayne Covers His Genitals in Diamonds

After the success of Damien Hirst’s For the Love of God, a human skull recreated in platinum and encrusted with thousands of diamonds, rapper Lil Wayne announced he was “getting out of the rap game” and “getting into the art world in a big way” by encrusting his own genitals with diamonds. The resulting artwork is fascinating, though no longer functional — the ultimate ‘bling’ and a stunning testament to the generative potential and primal power of art.

3. Kenneth Goldsmith Crafts History’s Worst Novel

Kenneth Goldsmith rose to literary prominence by pioneering his own brand of “uncreative writing” — books such as Day, in which he recopied all of the text from one day’s edition of the New York Times. But in 2010, Goldsmith produced what may be his magnum opus — history’s worst novel.

Another work of conceptual literature, Goldsmith’s novel And Then I Ate the Wombat (A Reminder of Our Mortality Being Only One of Many Universal Themes) is composed entirely of the worst lines copied from other novels, taken throughout history, in English or in translation. From page 1 to page 15,907, the brilliance of these decidedly un-brilliant lines captivates. My personal favourite (for its subtlety) is a line from page 13,485, taken from the Dean Koontz novel Relentless: “The scenery is stunning where we live now, but I will not describe it.”

2. Xie’s Performance Art Masterpiece: Nothing At All

In 2010, one performance artist stood apart from the rest, in both ambition and execution: Zhong Xie. Xie exploded the preconceptions of the art world with an extended performance piece, in which he did absolutely nothing of note during the whole of 2010.

Nothing can ever be the same in the performance art world after this piece. The most brilliant part of Xie’s performance may be his public demeanour — anytime he was asked about his project and the ideas behind it, Xie maintained that he was “not a performance artist” and had “no idea what anybody is talking about,” and that he only wished “you artsy types would leave me alone.”

1. The Planned Destruction of the Sun

There’s ambition, and there’s Ambition — Dr. Vladimir Draxas is guilty of the latter, capital-A Ambition, just as he is guilty of the most heinous, supervillainesque crime against humanity: threatening to destroy the sun itself.

Moreover, in preparing his doomsday weapon, and threatening to discharge it and thus end all life on this world, while dismantling the solar system, Draxas has not descended into comic-book villainy. No. He has issued an ingenious demand: that we take him seriously, and quit pretending that the doomsday weapon doesn’t work and this is just an artistic performance.

Thus, Draxas’s work calls many binaries into question, including the limits and stakes of artistic performance and achievement itself. The doomsday weapon itself is a masterpiece of post-post-post-modern sculpture, as anyone who has seen it floating near the moon can attest.

One must assume this is only the first of many demands but, because Draxas won’t stop whining, it is hard to tell. Expect this performance to blossom in the new year!

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Jonathan Ball is a writer, filmmaker, and scholar living at www.jonathanball.com.

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