Saturday, July 21, 2012

Whitney Biennial

Wow!  I'm really behind on posting.  Yes, the Whitney Biennial ended weeks ago.  And I actually saw the show clear back in April.  But that's not going to stop me from posting this:

Every other year the Whitney Museum of American Art hosts it biennial. And the Art world takes note.  That's because the Whitney Biennial has an impressive track record of defining the Art world's zeitgeist.  And in doing so, they help define the history of humanity. This was my third Whitney Biennial and so far, it's been my favorite.  Here are a few of the works that inspired me.

Nick Mauss offered a lovely work titled Concern, Crush, Desire (2011, cotton applique on velvet, brass door knobs, and doorstoppers). The interactive nature of the work surprised viewers and asked us to consider the role of museums in our society.  The installation also included a number of works from the Whitney's collection, an ingenious way of looking back while propelling Art into the future.

Liz Deschenes had two works in the biennial.  Both were stunning.  I'm not sure exactly what's going on in these "photographs." The images seem more like panels of stainless steel than gelatin silver prints.  I'd definitely hang these in my home.  Here is Untitled (2011, four silver-toned gelatin silver prints).

Pipe Organ (2009 - 2011, tin, paint, speakers, wire, and Yamaha organ) by Lutz Bacher is startling. The work is a mechanical organ that plays relentlessly as you wander the galleries. With a robotic-like device that changes the slow, methodic music, this work has a charm that only an early electronic keyboard can provide.  And yet, there was a sinister aspect to the piece.  The giant pipes from a derelict organ felt more like missiles left over from a war. And the constant musical drive could easily be heard as a strange military march. I wonder if Bacher isn't reminding us that humanity seems intent on an endless need for war.

Sick, Sic, Six, Sic ((Not) Moving): Seagullssssssssssssssssssss. (2018, monofilament, wood, hardware, and textured tape) by Cameron Crawford is a response to the death of six people the artist knew. The work is dated six years in the future and is designed to always be redated to six years ahead of the current time, offering a sense of the impossibility of comprehending loss and death. Most intersting is the museum tape on the floor. Even though you can't access both sides of the almost non-existent wall.  It's as if the artist is suggesting that those on the other side of the vail are being asked to stay a few feet away from the artwork.  It makes one wonder if there are grumpy gallery attendants on the other side of the artwork chastising ghosts for getting too close to the Art.

Elaine Reichek reminds us that craft matters with a variety of works created with hand and machine embroidery.  Here is There's No Need (2011, hand embroidery on linen).

There were several walls covered with the tantalizing monotypes of Nicole Eisenman. The work is called  Untitled (2011, Forty-five mixed-media monotypes).

At this point, I have to talk about one of the weird themes that shouted loud and clear from the Whitney Biennial.  That theme? The vintage record player. Record players were surprising popular at this year's biennial. For example, Tom Thayer presented a variety of works that were so confusing (yet strangely delightful) that I couldn't tell which work was which, even with the Whitney's helpful guide.  Nonetheless, the installation featured not one, but two old record players.

Here is another record playing that was playing loudly in the gallery.  It was part of Dawn Kasper's installation, This Could Be Something If I Let It.  More on that piece later in the post.

Even video artists seem to have ditched high-tech sound for old record players as seen in this still from This Project is not Going to Stop the War/Journey to the Beginning of Time, part of an installation created by Joanna Malinowska.

Malinowska offered some of the most interesting work in show including a work constructed from replicas of mammoth and walrus tusks.  The work referenced Marcel Duchamp's work, Bottle Rack.  But my favorite work in Malinowska's installation was a wall she had the museum staff construct within the museum.  It was just another gallery wall.  But in a brilliant move to skirt the curators, Malinowska chose to hang a painting by an artist not included in the official Whitney Biennial. That painting was Horse Nation (2011, oil on canvas) by Leonard Peltier and it's not the type of painting you normally see at the Whitney.  Here's a photo:

Peltier, a Native American activist, was convicted in the 70s of killing two FBI agents during a riot on a reservation. He is still in prison. Many activists have brought forward evidence that undermines the case against Peltier. By hanging his painting as part of the Biennial, Malinowska not only short circuits curatorial traditions, she brings attention to his activist causes, and draws attention to the fact that for an institution named the Whitney Museum of American Art, very few indigenous Americans are represented within its walls.  That's a pretty bold move.

As promised, here's more information about Dawn Kasper's intriguing work, This Could Be Something If I Let It.  Kasper has been without a studio since 2009 when she lost her job and could no longer afford the space. Born in 1977, Kasper is young enough that she's part of a generation that finds itself in a world where employment can be tricky.  But rather than move back in with her parents, like many of her generation, she turned the experience into art, starting a "nomadic studio practice." Kasper began treating temporary situations as though they were her studio.  For the Whitney Biennial, she took over one gallery, and unpacked all of her belongings.  For almost all of the museum's open hours, she was in her nomadic studio or elsewhere in the museum. You could wander through her studio as she painted or created mini installations or chatted with museum goers.  She was even happy to pause for a portrait:

I also liked the textures of an artist that came alive in the gallery, showing viewers the process of how art is made:

Lastly, I can't end this post without talking about the Whitney Biennial's commitment to performance art.  The entire fourth floor was dedicated to performance with many elements changing throughout the run of the exhibit.  On the day we were there (as if the curators knew I'm a dance fan), a choreographer was rehearsing a future work to be performed at a later date.  It was so cool to be standing in the Whitney's massive fourth floor gallery and watching dancers rehearse.  I'll end with a photograph and a short video of the rehearsal.

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