Thursday, March 02, 2006

I won't write about the Whitney, I won't write about the Whitney...

That's what I keep saying in my head, over and over again, and yet I am bombarded by comments on the biennial (Thinking About Art, From the Floor, New York Magazine, The Village Voice, NY Times, Bloomberg, Blake Gopnik)--

aw, hell...

Of course I have thoughts on it, and I keep thinking about what is good and bad about the 'curatorial thesis' prior to even seeing the show! So here's what I am going to do, I am going to write a serial response to all the Whitney Biennial input that is so pervasive in NYC. (Its funny that it passed virtually un-noticed in SF except the year that celebrated the -ugh - Mission School).

So, here are some initial thoughts on the curatorial thesis (given that my responses are based MERELY on the media saturation, and not on having actually read the catalog or thesis - yet).

Internationalism - I support this viewpoint, I think it made sense in the early years for the Biennial (and at times Annual) to focus on American artists, but with globalism as a reality of our time, it would be shortsighted and contrived to only have 'American' artists in the show. And what does it mean to be an American artists anyway?

This years Whitney takes the leap and explores what the 'American Experience' is - whether that is by an American living abroad, or a foreign born artist living in America. I think it is an important issue to review, and applaud the curators for taking it on (successfully or not).

Political art - I have talked about this before, so has Donald Kuspit, and more recently J.T., in Thinking About Art There was actually a good quote from Philippe on this, taking from Godard, 'Don't make political films (art), film (make art) politically.' That to me doesn't mean holding up a mirror or regurgitating the same things that we see over and over again in the media. Instead make it your own, use your own style and voice to either comment on it, provide refuge, or look to the future. Of course escapism isn't always applauded either.

Controversy - Doesn't seem to have much controversy this year (yet), in fact critically it is being well received.

The title - 'Day for Night,'Truffauts' 'La Nuit Americaine.' This refers to the old style of filming night scenes for movies in the middle of the day by using a filter and under-exposing the film. G didn't realize this was done (probably because it is a mostly American phenomena) and since I pointed it out, has driven him crazy ever since. It really breaks the suspension of disbelief. So what is this show attempting to do - is it trying to make us believe in the trick? Or is it exposing the faults in society and breaking our suspension of disbelief in modern day culture?

Exploration of the Alter Ego - I have a street artist alter ego - does anyone else have alter egos that they want to come forward with? Grayson Perry has an alter ego, Man Ray had an alter ego. It is an interesting artistic tradition to explore, but to have a fake or alter ego adding to the catalog - cute and clever, yes, important to the investigation, no.

Curators as artists - Todd's spot on about this. I am working on curating a few shows, but those are completely outside my practice as an artist. Yes it takes, skill and talent and effort to create a successful and cohesive show, but it is not at all the same as making art. With the inclusion of 'The Wrong Gallery' while an interesting 'action' and fitting within the theme is ultimately a bit of a slap in the face to the artists who are included.

(I swear this is the last for today, I have drawings to work on and jobs to apply to... Just wanted to say that I appreciate the irony in my large amount of comments regarding a show I haven't seen, when I hesitate to read press releases for shows I have seen. Or maybe that isn't ironic at all.)

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Anonymous said...

Yeah, I got an alter ego....two of 'em!
They made me sneak my KATEMOSS work into the biennial!

The curators dig:


esm said...

Oh hell yeh! Like you said, celebrity, drugs, religion, alter ego. Its all there. Its an interesting commentary on the cult of curator and cult of celebrity which invades so much of the 'popular' art these days. I was hopeful that Banksy would pay a visit and bestow upon the Biennial one of his incisive artistic critiques, in his absence, this'll do nicely. Did they leave it installed? I couldn't tell. And alter egos are great for political and cultural commentary since it removes the ego of the artist from the commentary.

fisher6000 said...

Your thoughts about political art are spot on. The Biennial left me with an accurate picture of the mess we are in. But what was at the WB that isn't already in the Times? I am left cold, wondering how we are going to imagine an alternative, a way out of this mess.

I think the From The Floor observations about the Wrong Gallery installation actually miss the point, for exactly the reasons above. Artists are becoming curators, not the other way around. The Wrong installation had its finger on the pulse of what artists on the other floors are doing: cleaving to reality and artifact. If artists are satisfied with arranging and situating what already exists, then why shouldn't curators be called artists?

(not that I don't find the wrong gallery 'action' problematic...)

esm said...

thanks for the thoughts fisher6000. here's my take:
if we accept the premise of the artistic value of merely restating newsworthy events, then well, yes I think the Wrong Gallery is perhaps valid (based on your acute statements).
but, if as we are arguing, this regurgitated art lacks in real artistic merit or value *because* it offers no insight, then the curators do not get to be artists.
i am working on some curatorial projects myself, and would certainly no consider those of the same level (for a variety of reasons) as my purely creative endeavours. the curating is taking works and defining the threads between them, or coming up with an idea and finding works that fit that idea. art making to me is about expressing an idea through a physical (and as a sculptor, very physical) creation. it takes time, refinement, effort, etc. hmm, the more i talk about it the harder it is to explain in words. curating seems to be less original maybe?
btw, your write up on the wb is one of the more insightful reviews that i have seen,, in particular the idea that the work is merely the culture of "my".
um, so yeh, i do need to go see it. (or i could wait until the hullabaloo calms down and go see the show 'fresh' in like may or something)

Lisa Hunter said...

Yeah, I told myself the same thing -- I won't write about the Whitney. What is it about that place that just makes you have to hit the keyboard?