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Scott Speh's review of the Whitney Biennial 2002 is right on, and not just because I'm listed as an also-ran. Yes, the big New York critics all trashed the show, but their reviews aren't helpful because none puts forth an agenda any better than the Whitney's. "Why no Elizabeth Murray instead of Vija Celmins?" asks the Times. Puh-lease. I get the feeling that those bad reviews are curator Larry Rinder's "Welcome to NY" hazing, and now he'll be with us for decades. A few years from now these same critics will be saying "Mr. Rinder got off to a rocky start with his first couple of shows, but he's shown great improvement, blah blah."
What Rinder attempts to do with the show is actually fairly interesting: a kind of Mondo 2000 vibe, emphasizing the high-tech on one hand and the primitive, handmade, and "tribal" on the other. Yet in order for a vision to leap wildly from mind to mind it must have what Robert Storr once called "the juice," and as every critic of the show noted, that's sadly lacking.
Speh has a somewhat different take: he believes there's been an upswing in good, new abstract art that the Whitney flat-out missed. I wish he had made more arguments for that position, but even the long list of people he supports shows more focus than the major media critiques of the show. Also, he's much better than Schjeldahl, et al, in conveying the boredom-bordering-on-disgust the show inspires. Those Detroit banners by Mike Kelley and Jim Shaw are awful, aren't they? Talk about forced zaniness. Two rich art stars reliving their art-garage-band youth, presenting clunky mural-style paintings of John Sinclair, MC5, Grand Funk Railroad, Sun Ra, etc...
And notably, in a show that so badly wants to be current, the boomer-centric time-line in the banners stops about 1982. When many people think of Detroit now, they think of techno pioneers Juan Atkins, Derrick May, Kevin Saunderson (and later, Carl Craig, Underground Resistance, Drexciya, DJ Assault...): all musicians who stayed in the city and created a scene--one that got worldwide attention. Whereas Shaw and Kelley bailed, made it big on the West Coast as artists, and now are getting all nostalgic. They love Motor City, but not enough to live there.