Editors’ pick: A Year in Two Reviews

Editors’ pick: A Year in Two Reviews

December 18, 2020 FEATURES

Editors’ pick: A Year in Two Reviews

Emily Conklin, Cornelia Smith

Pollinate editors Emily and Cornelia have each compiled a list of twenty art-related, or tangentially art-related, things they have encountered and enjoyed throughout 2020.

It’s hard to think of this year as a year; in many ways, it has felt like decades, time revealing itself to be an illusion constructed by collective movement. These past months have ticked along to an abnormal rhythm, rupturing any sense of regularity we previously took for granted.

Loss on this massive a scale is not normal. Willful ignorance does not equal freedom. Self-preservation is untenable without community preservation.

2020 has required us to adjust our expectations of ourselves and others, to reevaluate the extent to which work makes room for rest. How much we can push ourselves before grief swallows us whole? We must shatter long-held conceptions of success to make room for healing, to make space for rest, to nourish our creative energy and hold close those moments that remind us just how beautiful this fragile existence can be.

These lists are not traditional compilations of a ‘year in review.’ They are personal and specific, vulnerable and welcoming. We don’t expect you to know, enjoy, or agree with our choices; we do expect these lists to spark some of your own 2020 reflections on the things that made you think, and especially the moments that brought you joy amid the chaos.

If this year has taught us anything, it’s that we must continue to support one another through collective action. Pollinate would not be what it is without the incredible artists, organizations, and readers that engage with our content and programming. As Pollinate continues to grow (and we have some very exciting developments in the works!) we look forward to sharing more art, opinions, and aspirations with you all in the new year.



  1. Attending the performance Graveyard Shift: A Body in a Cemetery by Eiko Otake in Green-Wood Cemetery
  2. ‍The Anne Ranch presidential campaign created and spearheaded by comedian Charles Rogers (one of the co-creators of Search Party)
  3. These old bathtubs as planters on a street in Brooklyn:
  1. The mixed media collages put up in the hallways of Hardy Middle School in DC where I went to go vote in the DC primaries
  1. Sophie Lewis’ essay With-Women: Grieving in Capitalist Time published on e-flux
  2. The Color of Berlin, a twitter bot that tweets the color and hex code of the Berlin sky every few hours.
  3. Amy Zimmer’s A Better Me is Coming at Union Hall, a comedic solo show (featuring some special guests!) that tracked one woman’s journey encountering lovers old and new, plus several monologues of self-realization replete with drawn-out pauses and yearning glances
  1. Attending the New York City Ballet at Lincoln Center in February for Emily’s birthday
  2. Miles Greenberg’s performance Pneumotherapy (II) at Perrotin Gallery in New York
  3. Cash/Consent: The War on Sex Work by Lorelei Lee in n+1 (this was published in 2019 but I read it just this year)
  4. This painting of a cat in a yellow raincoat holding a fish by artist Natalia Shaloshvili: (image courtesy the artist’s Instagram)
  1. Visiting the Félix Vallotton: Painter of Disquiet exhibition at the Met in January right before it ended. This was special for me because the month prior I had just completed a semester-long research project in Paris that focused primarily on Vallotton’s painting Coin de rue à Paris (which I juxtaposed with Sophie Calle’s Suite venitienne, but I won’t get into that here).
  2. My Easter egg series (not yet published) of four egg characters: Barbara, an elderly widow with a youthful spirit who spends her days in quarantine lounging in the blow-up kiddie pool on her lawn; AJ, a hypochondriac with self-diagnosed electromagnetic sensitivity who spends most of their time in a glass bubble they custom ordered from the same company that manufactures glass chair mats (the negotiation process was long and expensive); Janice, recently furloughed, who decided to dye her hair green on a whim and cut her own baby bangs–the end result was not to her liking, however she went viral on TikTok, launched her own podcast, and is now sponsored by Better Help; and Paul, a washed-up freelance consultant who, to everyone’s surprise, has taken the pandemic seriously–though to everyone’s dismay has used his time in isolation to rebrand himself as a “modern day Andy Warhol,” while somewhat paradoxically turning his studio apartment into a white cube gallery in which he obsessively takes selfies for his reluctant yet loyal family and friends.
  1. Watching The Cancer Journals Revisited–a film by Lana Lin in which cancer survivors read aloud passages from Audre Lorde’s manifesto, The Cancer Journals–which was temporarily streaming for free on the National Gallery of Art website.
  2. Sick Architecture, a collaborative project between Beatriz Colomina, e-flux Architecture, and the Princeton University Ph.D. Program in the History and Theory of Architecture that presents a wide-ranging discourse on current and historical conceptions of illness as it relates to architecture—physical and cerebral—as well as philosophy, politics, technology, and other areas of human life. Super relevant and captivating.
  3. Heal Your Headache: the book/diet that has improved the frequency and severity of my migraines.
  4. Visiting Jacqueline Cedar in her apartment gallery Good Naked
  1. Cole Escola’s film Pee Pee Manor — a short film noir (or rather a comedic rendering of one) filled with intrigue, mystery, sinister backstories, and incredible wigs
  2. {the community, the state and a specific kind of headache} by Zarina Muhammad from the White Pube. Zarina talks to five arts practitioners in the UK involved in community-based art initiatives, diving deep into tangible ideas on how we can dissolve the myth of “democratization in the arts” upheld by gatekeeping art institutions. 
  3. Mapping Craft: This is How We Meet — a publication driven by the first cohort of students in the MA in Critical Craft Studies program at Warren Wilson College that explores the wide-ranging depth of craft across a variety of disciplines.


  1. The Metropolitan Museum of Art – By far, the most monumental event of 2020 was the going and coming back of the museums I love most, and I had the wonderful opportunity to attend the Met’s opening day this fall.
  2. The Guggenheim – I stopped by the Guggenheim (my favorite museum, hands down, but also the most expensive…) to see the tail end of the infamous Rem Koolhaus’ “Countryside, the Future” exhibition. Being back in these hallowed halls hearing my boots click on the polished floors put me in the immediate and never again to be taken for granted space of art sanctity. There’s nothing better than visiting old friends who’ve been away for a while.
  3. Remembering Scott Harney’s posthumous poetry 
  1. Perfect Bodies – an outdoor exhibition of large, spherical sculptural works by Bosco Sodi, located behind an auto body shop in Red Hook
  2. New York City Ballet x Justin Peck  Justin Peck, my favorite choreographer, is an artist who bookended my 2020 — I attended the opening night of his new ballet at Lincoln Center in February, and then he came en force again mid-pandemic with the stunning filmed compositions of ballet dancers in NYC’s Chinatown (dancing in the yellow light of Nom Wah Tea Parlor, a personal favorite).
  3. Mrs. Meyer’s Basil candle – Nothing gets me more cozy or calm than the enduring luxe of the Mrs. Meyer’s Basil Candle. Available in most NYC bodegas, it’s nothing fancy, but its unique savory/herby scent has become a staple in my apartment and has remained lit on my desk late into many 2020 nights. It also reminds me of the Metrograph Theater in Manhattan, a mainstay for the city’s film culture that chose this scent to waft through their bar and restaurant.
  4. Projecting movies in my backyard, against the white butt of a Brooklyn Baptist church
  5. On Beckett / In Screen – While staying with a friend over the Thanksgiving holiday, we were starved for some high art content after binging Queen’s Gambit. My friend’s mother came across the superb, dark yet charming one-man show by Bill Irwin. Titled “On Beckett / In Screen,” the hour-long program consisted of the clown taking us through his personal history with the playwright, a notoriously dark and absurd writer who created notoriously difficult art. Nonetheless, there was something aptly pandemic about this pairing: the clown and the nihilist, and I loved each minute of it.
  6. Aalto, Architecture and Design Film Festival – A perfect story with thrilling visuals exploring the life of my favorite architect Alvar Aalto, a Finnish master of modernism, often called the “architect’s architect.”
  7. Babet’s Feast  – I watched this film over the quarantine and cried hot, hot tears. The most touching story, about a lost woman in a strange village, who spends her entire fortune hosting a French dinner party. I ate it up.
  1. A Little Art, by Kate Briggs – This is a book, written by a formidable female translator, that completely overturned the way in which I read and consume words. I flew through my beautiful Fitzcarraldo edition in two days. 
  2. “Flashlight” by Susan Choi in The New Yorker
  3. Nivola in New York, Figure in Field” exhibition at the Cooper Union 
Nivola sculpture, courtesy of the Cooper Union
  1. “A Moral Witness” by Fintan O’Toole, a revisitation of the legacy of Martha Gellhorn in the NYRB – In a year when so many op-eds came out regarding the female muse and the value of a woman’s work seen through the lens, primarily, of her more famous artistic partner, this in-depth review of Martha Gellhorn, one of Hemingway’s wives, was a sip of cool water. Putting her work and life experiences first and foremost, I learned more about her as the trailblazing journalist and beat personality she really was, totally stripped of the Hemingway shadow that is usually cast over her histories. 
  2. My last meal before the pandemic at Momofoku Saam bar – My friend was our waitress. They sent extra wine. There was crab dip and music in a warm, poorly lit space in the East Village and it was perfect. 
  3. Physical Graffitea – A top 10 for the 4th year in a row. My favorite tea shop on St. Mark’s that makes the most amazing medicinal blends. I recommend the earthy Japanese green tea selection and their relaxation tonic, Deep Purple (kava kava, skullcap)
  1. My newest zine – Some really shameless self promo here, but one of the only creative projects I saw all the way through this torpid year. It explores through poetry and photography my old, beloved West Side neighborhood. 
  1. Japanese paper notebooks – Game-changing-creamy-soft-translucent-soaks up your ink like no one else could. Guaranteed to transform your writing or sketching practice.
  2. Whiskey tea (earl grey + Evan Williams + Mike’s hot honey) 
  3. Still Life with Gingerpot I by Piet Mondrian at the Guggenheim  – On my most recent visit to this painting at the Gugg, I sat with her for 20 minutes. The guard came over to nudge me.
Image courtesy the Guggenheim Museum