Monday, May 19, 2008
Late Notes on the WB
The 2008 Whitney Biennial
On view till June 1st.
I live in squalor. I make less then $30,000 a year and until recently had no benefits to speak of, so I cannot afford to be an art sophisticate. I cannot compare the Whitney Biennial to the Berlin Biennial or Documenta or anything that may happen in London. So I cannot complain that the Whitney Biennial is not as good as all those other fairs and art parties, but I have read that other people have stated this complaint and have proffered the opinion that we, American Artists, are slipping.
I can only compare the Whitney Biennial this year to past Whitney Biennials, of which I have been to two. I always leave a Biennial slightly bitter and end up deciding much later that I actually enjoyed the show. This year holds up to that trend, though I can't help thinking the show wasn't as "power-packed" as in years past. I didn't leave with the feeling that I had probably missed half the exhibition because it was physically impossible to see that much, instead I felt like I had seen everything, including some video, but was maybe still a little "hungry". The Whitney Biennial 2008 can readily be compared to a decent tasting sandwich that is just slighlty too small; you can't eat another one but you aren't satisfied with just one either. Perhaps if I had seen the part of the Biennial that was exhibited at the Park Avenue Armory (I missed it as it was only up till March 23rd) I wouldn't feel this way.
I actually applaud the curators; Henriette Huldisch and Shamim M. Momin, on trying out this "less is more approach". I like the idea of rooms devoted to one artist and think it could have worked to great affect if only the artist-projects had turned out better. As it were, I only wrote down a handful of awesome/interesting enough to talk about stand-outs:
You are confronted The Grand Machine, a post-humously installed sculpture first thing and already your mind is asking a million questions; besides the usual "What the hell is going on in this Jason Rhoades piece?" (it seems to be about karoke singing and packaging things with pea-roe-foam) there is the "How much of this piece did Jason Rhoades actually work on?" factor.
I know that The Grand Machine was actually created before Rhoades died in 2002, but it looks much different as it was originally installed in Vienna (I would love to show you this but just can't bring myself to care enough to contact the press office at the Whitney--when will people wise up and let us take pictures of whatever we want?). I would love to be a fly on the wall as they debated how best to install it as the artist would have installed it.
Has the distinction of being one of the only artists I didn't already know about that I ended up really liking. I really feel her sensibility.
Is the other "artist" I now like. I think.
Upon further study Dexter Sinister appears to be one of the most complicated artists in the Biennial. I believe "his" contributions included a "True Mirror" in the bathrooms, that is a mirror that reflected your actual reflection, not your reverse reflection as actual mirrors do, a selection of printed material behind glass and some project at the Park Avenue Armory that is somewhat documented in a totally uninformation-giving way on the web here.
I have very little information to go on but I am sincerely intriqued. The name Dexter Sinister is probably not a real name but one inspired by the British comic-series; Sinister Dexter. In latin sinister means 'on the left side' and dexter means 'on the right side', so there's that as well. I feel entirely disinformed and am very impressed.
Or was, until I read this article, that pretty much cleared up everything, sort of. (I now know that Dexter Sinister is the compound name of David Reinfurt and Stuart Bailey, who publish books and things on an on-demand basis.)
The Casting, is a four-channel video presentation in which two narratives, told by the same U.S. Army sergeant, the accidental shooting of an Iraqi and a romantic liaison with a young German woman who mutilates herself, are sort of mixed up together in a seamless fashion. Sometimes you will be viewing the reinactment of the shooting, only while you hear the narrative of the date. The actors stand still in all of the scenes, as if they are a still-frame. The only noise is the narrative, sometimes the narrative turns into a scene of a director casting the actors for the sequence--or at least this is what I interpreted but the write-up on the Biennial's page makes no mention of this being a part of the video.
It stand to reason that one could write a full-length review of this piece alone, hopefully after watching the entire video (which I did not).
Letter on the Blind, For the Use of those who See. This was a really moving piece of video in which six (?) blind persons were "introduced to an elephant" and allowed to touch the creature. It was amazing to imagine what you might think of an elephant, if you had never seen one and could only feel one. Again I didn't watch the whole video but I totally would have if they aired it on PBS.
Also great, were the works by Pheobe Washburn and Mitzi Pederson. I would love to say that I really liked the projects by Rachel Harrison and Karen Kilimnick, because usually I love them both, but found their work in this exhibition to be lacking.