Friday, April 02, 2010

Belatedly, the 2010 Whitney Biennial

About a month ago, I accompanied Steve Cannon to the Whitney Biennial. I took some pictures but my report was eclipsed by the next week's art fair glut. This was a different experience from the last Whitney event we attended, for several reasons. The Biennial is much higher profile and larger and affords the curators the opportunity to organize multiple floors as an architectural installation. It was very crowded. We ran into some absurd problems. I relish the uncomfortable and awkward, because it's more to talk about.
One absurd thing is that we bypassed the line around the block of guests with the same sort of invitations as ours by approaching the front doors and - I feel terrible having actually said "he can't wait in line, he's blind". It was completely ridiculous, but one of the staff recognized Steve and let us in. I count it as one of the many situations where it's easier to acquiesce to the entitled than stick to principles.
The first place everyone ended up was on the long coat-check line. Steve claimed he didn't want to check his coat so I had to figure ou how to get out of the line.

The Bruce High Quality Foundation is a collective with its own response-nnial. Their piece was an ancient ambulance with scenes from movies projected on the front window, narrated by a woman who spoke of their relationship with a personified America. Boring but it did have presence.

My favorite piece was a sculpture installation involving glasses of water and video cameras hanging in orange nets from a system of wires. The cameras fed live to projectors embedded in tables around the room, semi-randomly.

Tauba Auerbach makes large, very flat paintings of crumpled canvases. This was the highlight of the Art Materials Reflexivity Room.

After two floors Steve, who was still wearing two layers of coats, overheated and needed to sit down. I took him to the stairwell where we caused a serious fire code violation and had to ask security for a wheelchair. Most were okay but one oblivious security guy just told us not to block the stairs as he passed. So, thank you Whitney: not only did you allow the absurdity of a blind dude at a visual art opening, but you gave him a wheelchair.
I then parked him in a corner with a makeshift label on the wall and finished my tour of the 2-d-oriented floor, to report back.

Aurel Schmidt exemplifies what I might call hipster art - young Americans who tend to focus on detailed craftwork. Work like hers, colored drawings in which figures are assembled from junk objects, combine the generation's preoccupations with recycling and non-fractal scaling.

These concerns manifest best in the sculptures and installations Francesco Bonami and Gary Carrion-Murayari have selected this year. Other notable decisions are the decrease in artists from the last biennial, and the female majority. Viewing it at the opening meant that the crowd overwhelmed the work - or that the work was trying particularly hard for a stillness that resisted the party atmosphere. I definitely felt that the curators knew more what to look for in 3-D and virtual work than in 2-D, or were encouraging a "painting is dead, and really, we're trying to believe it isn't" attitude. I don't think that represents any general reality in art right now - but I prefer the post-historical approach, anyway.

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