Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Highlights of the 2012 Whitney Borennial

The Whitney makes an excellent cup of decaf -
my reward for walking around for a couple of hours at the Biennial.
Why didn't I ask them what brand they use?  Doh!

At the show, I notice lots of things being projected with those old-fashioned
slide projectors that college art history departments are de-accessioning these days.  
Here's some stuff being projected on the wall and some people staring at stuff on the floor that's going through some kind of metamorphosis, or perhaps only a degradation, 
a process that for some reason is helped, or perhaps hindered by the fan.
Made with ferrofluid and magnets, fyi.

(Artwork by Sam Lewitt)

Here are two doors that people are hesitant to go through 
because who knows!!! what  might be on the other side...

...bit it's nothing to be afraid of.  Just some painting on the wall.
It won't bite.  Or even mess up your shoes.

This work is by Nick Mauss who also has hung numerous artworks from the Whitney collection
in his "intervention" - a drawing by Ellsworth Kelly, a painting by Marsdon Hartley, for example,
trying to "disrupt the expected experience of a contemporary art exhibition." (From the Nick Mauss Whitney website)

Yes, it is disruptive to see extraordinary artwork in this context, I must say.
But, reassuringly, here is more stuff on the floor, (note the slide projector)
compliments of Dawn Kaspar...

...who is lucky enough to have moved her studio to the Whitney... she has a place to work for the run of the exhibition... free!!!  The wall plaque says she's supposed to be in the studio working on her art
(using her precious rent-free!!! Whitney time well),
but I don't see her.  Unless she's disguised as a random viewer.
Let me contemplate for a moment on the resonance that would create...
...another rich layer of performance added to her work in that
she could be standing right next to me and I wouldn't even know it!

("The Celestial Handbook" by Lutz Bacher)

Here are some pages from an old book that are framed and placed on the wall.  
I see them all over the Whitney - they pop up here and there, unexpectedly!!! 
giving me a little ironic jolt of the retro-cosmos.

 Now I become a post-modern Diogenes, looking not for an honest man
but for a painting that interests me.
This has been my quest in every Biennial I've ever gone to.
Okay, not yet...
(Paintings by Andrew Masullo)
...not yet...
...not yet...

Aha!  Here is one by an inmate in federal prison, Leonard Peltier,
a Native American activist who, according to Amnesty International,
had an unfair trial that convicted him of killing two FBI agents in 1975 
at the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.
I have a great deal of respect for this painting and what it means, on many levels.

And I quite like this one, a Forrest Bess painting from 1949, a very good year.  
Forrest died in 1977, but he has finally been given a place in the Biennial.
This gives me hope for my own art-future.

(Artwork by Vincent Fecteau)

Here is some sculputre.  Oh, sorry, I misspelled sculpture, but I rather like the way
that word looks.  This piece reminds me of something I did (in wood) back at the University of Wisconsin (UW Stout) in my sophomore year that I thought was quite good.

Here are some deer-antler-type things.
Wait, sorry, after doing proper research, I find that 
they are replicas of walrus and mammoth tusks that refer both
to Duchamp and totemic art, by Polish artist Joanna Malinowska.
Here is a quote from the Whitney website:
"Malinowska has built a small wall on which she has hung a painting by the imprisoned American Indian Movement activist Leonard Peltier, which she has “smuggled” into the exhibition as an intervention. As a Polish-born artist, Malinowska is questioning both her inclusion in the Whitney Museum of American Art’s Biennial and the absence of Native American art in the Museum’s collection and exhibitions."

So she is responsible for "smuggling" in the horse painting.
Perhaps I should also smuggle in something that I find important,
like the Painted People, who are a bit miffed about their exclusion from this show to the point
where they are blaming me, which really, I don't think is quite fair.
Indeed, here is Crystal in 2008 "metaphorically flooding the Biennial with abstract expressionist

flow-state ambience, not unlike the constituent substance from which they sprang, fully formed, questioning not only the exclusion of the abstract oeuvre but also pointing out the lack of any representation of the mytho-poeic subversion represented by the various so-called 'vision quests' of the Painted People with their profound references to both Minoan matriarchal cultural structures and the undermining of the pervasive Barbie/Ken humanocentric stranglehold on our culture."  

I am quoting Lucy, Bertilak the Camel, and Jude of the Painted People here,
from an unedited draft of their rather long treatise,
which needs some work, I fear.
Pardon the Painted People -
 they can be aggressive when it comes to pushing their own agenda.  Back to the show.

(Artwork by Elaine Reichek)

 Here is the reason I will never let myself buy a digital sewing machine - 
I would spend the rest of my life programming cool things into it.

(Artwork by Liz Deschenes)
I like this work by Liz Deschenes.  At first I thought it was a kind of Donald Judd-ish metal piece, 
but surprisingly, they are silver-gelatin prints, subtle, minimal and elegant.
These are camera-less "photograms" that are developed outside, 
taking photography to a very elemental level, according to the artist.
(Later note:  a photographer friend tells me that this is basically a kind of "fogged paper" 
that is not particularly respected by the photo world.  Sigh.) 

(Artwork by Travis Josef Meinholf, not Kai Althoff)
And here is a woven scrim that I also quite like, although I worry about the person
on the other side who is hunched over in a semi-fetal position.
Could it be Dawn Kaspar, who for some reason is stuck here and can't get back to her Itinerant Studio?
My first research led me to think that Kai Althoff did this piece, but I have since found out that he did the paintings (not pictured here) that hang from the weaving, and the weaving itself is by a person named Travis Josef Meinholf, who doesn't appear on the list of Whitney Biennial artists! 
I have no idea what is going on with this, 
but it seems that one of my favorite pieces isn't part of the "real" show.

Warner Herzog's video installation occupies me for a couple of minutes,
but I keep wanting to run it through my After Effects computer program
 and make it do something interesting.
Such are my limitations as a viewer.

(Artwork by Lucy Raven)
In the mezzanine are test patterns from various sources, by Lucy Raven.
I remember when test patterns would come on TV after, say, the late movie or the Johnny Carson show, along with a voice saying, "Our daily programming has reached its conclusion.  Please tune in tomorrow for our regular schedule of news and entertainment."
Then the test patterns and staticky buzz let us know it was time to go to bed
 because even the TV was losing consciousness.
Maybe that's why I'm often up at three AM doing my blog - 
I need test patterns.

(Artwork by Lucy Raven)

Now comes the magic part.
I stand in front of a piece with a video of a guy playing a guitar, sort of, and I dutifully take a photo,
but while I'm trying to figure out what the big deal is about this piece, 
I hear someone asking what kind of camera I'm using.
Is the man from Red Krayola talking to me???

I am wrenched out of my Whitney-induced state of semi-somnolence
 as my rights as judge and viewer are brutally undermined.
I have become not the gazer, but the gazee!
 I flee the talking screen, and it stops addressing me.  
A narrow escape.
I realize that it is limited to its own small field of vision, 
which is true of any Skype program.
Which of course is what it is.  Skype.
Having been lulled with test patterns and slide projectors, this 
cutting edge technology gets me going for a minute!

I feel the need to go have coffee and nurse my bourgeois sensibilities 
which have been shaken to their core.
Could I be suffering from the shock of the new?
Or the relatively new-ish?  
Skype isn't new, of course.  In any other context it would be ordinary.  Fun, maybe, but ordinary.
Is this the magic of the Biennial?  To make the ordinary special?

Perhaps that's what this man is telling his avid students outside the museum,
 about how to prepare for the shock of the new-ish
in the show we used to love to hate, but now we just like to sort of like or not like, whatever,
 as the case may be.
While I sip my excellent coffee next to the Whitney restaurant
(not in the restaurant since that is closed off to me because of my bad timing),
I think, I need to go back
and face my fears head on:  I need to chat with the Skyper.
So back up to the 5th floor mezzanine I go.

There is a desk in front of the monitor with a big book on it 
and a special archival pen that the Red Krayola man tells everyone to make sure they write with 
so the book will last forever.
He is chatting comfortably with the woman in the red shirt,
and he even brings out some still life objects for her to draw in the book.

Well, this is fun.  Finally Ms. Red-shirt stops yakking and gets up, and I screw my courage to the sticking point, bravely sit down, sign the book and ask a few banal questions. 
Sadly, I barely listen to his responses because this whole Skype/Ichat 
makes me nervous.  Is it because it's so Big-Brother-ish?
I have a bit of a phone-phobia in any case - I'm often terrible on the phone, 
monotonal and awkward, and two-way monitors?  EEEK!
(This problem stems from my time farming when I would come in from dealing
with milking and manure and the random barn cat killed by being laid
on by a cow or accidentally chopped up by the haybine, and the phone would ring and it would be a
man yelling at me for being behind on that same haybine monthly payment.)
Perhaps I need therapy.  
Perhaps the Whitney show has helped me to "face up."  Or not. 

But now I must go to Chelsea and see some more art.
Unfortunately I've missed the Michael Clark performance at 4PM which, 
the guard tells me sternly at 4:01, 
I was supposed to get a ticket for, and then sit in the waiting line on the stone steps 
like a shivering penitent on Judgment Day
from 3:30 until 4, and since I had not done this, I would not be let in.
He seems angry with me - I have ruined his day!  
After all, why should I be rewarded for my last minute attentions
when everyone else has had to suffer a half hour on cold hard stairs!
Just who do I think I am? 
(Photo by Jake Walters from the Michael Clark Whitney website)
So I miss things like the above. 
Fortunately I have seen a smiley face already during the Red Krayola still life event, so I'm good to go.
And go I do.
Later I read that the curators believe viewers should come back numerous times, five or six at least,
to get a true understanding of the depth and breadth of the show.
And while I know I should go again - shouldn't I? - 
I find that my schedule of art, writing, blogging, Facebooking, teaching, playing internet Scrabble, 
eating dinner with Frank and watching Netflix keeps me too busy to return. 
Or perhaps these are all excuses, and I have developed a Whitney-phobia 
after being chastised by the guard.
Whatever the reason - it appears that my responses to this exhibiton 
shall remain shallow and narrowly wrought, 
and sadly lacking in comments on the video portions, which you'd think I'd be avid about
since I'm a video artist myself...
...or have I developed a phobic response to art video except for my own to which I have an immunity... any case, there'll be another Biennial in two years, 
which gives me plenty of time to recover.
The Painted People and I look forward to that.


  1. Wow, comprehensive! Now I'm glad I didn't go, because it doesn't seem so amazing after all, and because I have now experienced the whole thing via you! Thanks!

  2. Felt like I was there. Thanks for the hilarious and insightful take on the show!

  3. I am happy not even I have to go

  4. Thank you! I wove the scrim you liked!

    1. Thanks for commenting, Travis. Your piece was my favorite in the Whitney Biennial.