March 15, 2012

The Whitney Biennial

The show was mobbed, though I went on a weekday. I left with fewer photos than I'd have liked; you can see 80+ here.

Pieces I wish I'd shot but didn't include LAST SPRING: A Prequel, by Gisèle Vienne with Dennis Cooper, Stephen O’Malley, and Peter Rehberg; Green Room by Wu Tsang; Sarah Michelson's Devotion Study #1–The American Dancer; and RP47 by Lucy Raven. I also really enjoyed Werner Herzog's video installation, Hearsay of the Soul, with its powerful audio of music from his film, Cave of Forgotten Dreams.

My photos also don't do justice to many of the works, e.g. Sam Lewitt's "self-organizing" installation comprising magnets, fans, and a pool of sticky-looking ferrofluid; or Nick Mauss's installation, which included, in addition to the twin-doored vestibule he built and "painted" with sewn fabric, a number of not-obviously connected objects: a small projection plus works by Andy Warhol, Gary Winogrand, Ellsworth Kelly, Charles Demuth, Ira Delaneaux [sp?].

Additional informative audio and bits of visuals re- the exhibition are available at the Whitney's site; more images at PaperMag.

(Image left: detail from installation/performance set by Georgia Sagri.)

Roberta Smith has a glowing review in the NYT, with an excellent slide show here. A couple of aspects she identifies are that (1) the biennial includes lots of modes of art, including an impressive array of time-based works in video, music, dance, and performance as well as painting, sculpture, and installation – without particularly privileging any of them (although I don't recall much photography, unless you count photographs used in larger works, such as Dawn Kasper's installation, which comprised the entire contents of her living quarters/studio); and (2) the show is artist-centric, in that it focusses to an unusual degree on artists' processes and in some instances had them curate other artists into the exhibition.

These aspects seem so sensible and right that I confess I didn't notice them 'til I read Smith's review after seeing the show; and I'm glad she praised them. (Now that I think of it, even the cover image for the biennial {above right} seems to reflect an ambition to make the museum a more transparent vessel for its contents.) And I did notice, as I think Smith also mentions, that the written explanations of the works were unusually helpful.

I personally wish that more of the video had been easier to see. With respect to most of the videos as well as performances, each was only presented at certain times and for only a few days during the run of the exhibition, making it impossible to see all unless you can return multiple times over a 13-week period.

I saw only a few minutes of Wu Tsang's Wildness in his Green Room installation (video embedded below), which was packed.

I also saw the dance performance choreographed by Sarah Michelson. The set and costumes were relatively simple (you can see a few images and another review here), and for the vast majority of the near-90 minute piece, four or less of the same 4 dancers walked rapidly backward in mostly counter-clockwise circles, all more often than not tracing the same basic movements and path while separated by a more or less fixed distance, with occasional pauses that seemed necessary in order to give the dancers much-needed breathers. During the latter part of the performance, a 5th dancer wearing a (race-?) horse's head strolled through, lingered briefly – observing? – and left. The audio consisted of the same, musically interesting but short loop throughout, without any variation in instrumentation, tempo, or volume, etc. – except that, at the beginning of the piece, there was additional audio of a relatively brief conversation, seemingly between Michelson and a male artist, with the male doing most of the talking, mostly about feeling uncertain whether he'll manage to come up with anything much for his current commission; plus other bits of Michelson's voice near the end, enjoining the dancers to "make it very beautiful" and then relating a story of God's other child Marjorie, in which I'm afraid I got a bit lost, between acoustics that were, for me, less than crystal clear, plus being by then fairly stupified by the monotony.

(Image right: detail from collage by Robert Hawkins.)

All in all, I enjoyed this biennial and found it well done and rewarding of time and attention, though it could perhaps have been more exciting.

Here's the trailer for Wildness:

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