April 24, 2014

whitney biennial

After reading countless reviews,
and now that all the hoopla is over with, 
I finally made it to see the Whitney Biennial in person. 
(I know I'm a little late on the bandwagon...)

This year each floor of the museum was curated by a different curator, so I have to say it was a little tough going in with unbiased eyes. I've been a big fan of Michelle Grabner, the curator of the fourth floor, for a while now, taking some cues from her inspiring life of teaching, exhibiting, curating, raising kids, etc. Her Suburban was a huge influence when I opened my own suburban art gallery a few years ago. 

For what it's worth, I tried my best to be as impartial as I could.

view of fourth floor

I'm not usually much of an optimist so I started at the bottom floor with the idea of saving the best till last. Although I kinda liked Charlemagne Palestine's sound installation in the stairway,

I could've easily saved my tired feet, went straight up to the fourth floor and called it a day. 

It's taken a second look back at some of the work on the lower levels to keep myself from getting too repugnant, but if you haven't seen the show yet, to quote Jillian Steinhauer from Hyperallergic, "you won't be too put out, turned off, or riled up."

There were a lot of forgettable pieces in this show, mainly the entire second floor.

Charline Von Heyl
Charline Von Heyl, who I am a fan of, had some nice yet underwhelming black and white collages, and I struggled to stay focused on Rebecca Morris' paintings.

view of Rebecca Morris' paintings

Floor three was a little more lively. I didn't completely mind Ken Okiishi's painted video screens, however there were some major problems. 

view of Ken Okiishi's work

Bjarne Melgaard's multi-media room filled with mannequins and videos fell very flat especially after reading the sign on the doorway warning of explicit sexual and violent content. There seemed nothing sexy or violent about it and it came off rather staged and artificial, although maybe that was the point.

If the Biennial is meant to represent the most relevant artwork of our time, than perhaps in this case our time was well documented. I'm just not happy being overloaded with a lot of noise and media and absolutely no substance. Rather than regurgitate the noise back to us why not make some art out of it?

At some point I just wanted to yell at the artists, "give me more than just your obsessive compulsions!"

"Talk to me in a language that merits a deeper investigation, that warrants being put under the glass and scrutinized."

By the time I got back around to the elevators I found myself looking everywhere for something I could sink my teeth into. I was feeling overwhelmed with lackluster confusion.

As a whole the third floor felt rather disjointed, and it bothered me that the curator's statement made it seem like this was his intention. You can't posture a whole show with mish mash just because you claim that mish mashing everything together is your intention. It doesn't make it work any better.

In contrast, and I just can't help it, I thought the fourth floor had a better flow and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Although there were rooms that were jam packed, there were also some quieter rooms with plenty of space. When it all works together, that's called dynamics and I thought this show had it.

Sheila Hicks

I had a slew of favorites: ceramics by Sterling Ruby, Ricky Swallow's sculptures, video by Jennifer Bornstein, Jacqueline Humphries, Sheila Hicks, Zoe Leonard's room size camera obscura- all good stuff, and there are a lot that I'm missing.

Sterling Ruby

Jacqueline Humphries

All in all, you just can't go without witnessing the biennial in all of its long winded surprises, sensations, blunders, and achievements.. I guess I'm glad I didn't totally skip the work I didn't like, but at the same time somebody please give someone like Ms. Grabner a chance to curate the whole damn thing next time. It shouldn't matter whether it's a museum or a gallery, commercial or non profit. Exhibitors of art and culture have a responsibility to do whatever it takes to truly represent the artists of our time without constantly watching their backs, their reputations and their pocket books....

Now I'm being an optimist!

detail of Joel Otterson's beaded curtain

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