Notes on the 2004 Whitney Biennial
1. If you like work made with a jigsaw, painted, and stuck at right angles to the wall, this is your Biennial.
2. Started on the 2nd floor and worked up to 4. "Is this the fey, twee Biennial or just the fey, twee floor?" ("Fey": everything from Banks Violette's black, stalagmite-infested drumkit to Elizabeth Peyton's pale, perpetually red-lipped popstars; "twee": the preponderance of little craftsy cut out-y things in the show. Sensitive boys meet sensitive girls and ignore each other for their respective playworlds.)
3. Stood gaping at Assume Vivid Astro Focus' busy, businesslike post-psychedelic installation for a long time and finally said, though gritted teeth, "I don't like this."
4. Bad painting, and not in a good way: Mel Bochner's happy, colorful "word art" channelling Jessica Diamond, Kay Rosen, et al. Laura Owens' fake-zany, fake-clumsy giant tree with birds, etc.: uggh. Cameron Martin: boring!
6. Too many installations!
7. Wanted, for curatorial malpractice: Shamim Monin, Chrissie Iles, Debra Singer. Crime: Placing Cory Arcangel/BEIGE Nintendo clouds piece next to brilliantly lit mirrored room, washing out the lower right corner of the video projection. If they did this to a Barnett Newman they'd have old men with cigarettes hanging off their lower lips and romantic stubble sending them critical letters the rest of their lives.
8. Too clever by half: Golan Levin's interactive piece on the popularity of numbers. Does "3" beat "89908" for the most uses out there in the world? And what are those uses? Scroll and see! If this is a satire of the computer nerd's relentless drive to quantify everything, it's pretty good; if it's a celebration of that same tendency it's the world's most elaborate executive toy.
9. Having said all this mean stuff, the show was still fun: better cumulatively than object by object. Even mass infantile regression beats Larry Rinder's earnest, tedious 2002 effort. It helped seeing it with a large audience of toddlers, teens and bus-tour seniors: through their eyes, it was an adventure. If only that sense of awe & enthusiasm could be piped into Chelsea's dreary classist environment.
10. Best of show: the films and videos. Sue de Beer's two-channel piece, discussed here earlier, works even better in a small room than it did in Postmasters' big cube. It was great to see the Jack Goldstein loop, an undersea travelogue missing only a Film Board of Canada soundtrack and boomy male voice saying "When lava pours out of the sea mount, islands are formed..." For positive things about these and other artists, please see Sally McKay's report.
UPDATE: Here's one explanation for all the "youthful exuberance." I'm told that in setting up studio visits outside NY, the curators asked to see "young artists." That sounds like pimp talk. Hypothetical local museum director: "Are you looking for someone good?" "No, we're looking for someone young."
"Public - Wed April 14, 2004 7:00 pm to 9:00 pm
Thanks, Selma. I think I'll go and ask Sue and Banks how they like having their work called adolescent.
Seriously, this adolescent thing is a crock for several reasons. First, "a fluid, creative sensibility recognizing no distinction between a high cultural tradition and the proliferation of low or subcultural styles" pretty much defines all art since Pop. Kenny Scharf had a black light installation in the Whitney 20 years ago: it was Astro Jetson instead of Astro Focus but otherwise there's hardly any difference. Second, "adolescent" pretty much defines our whole culture: "Rock" is still the dominant music and every year we have a new crop of blockbuster comic book movies.
The Whitney curators' "quest for the adolescent" might be more valid if they weren't also trolling for "young artists" (meaning the 20s-30s demographic), as mentioned above. If they had to do that damn theme, some older practitioners like Lily van der Stokker or John Wesley might have been interesting inclusions because you can't really guess their age from their work. Or what about including actual adolescents, like we do here on this page? That would have "rocked," but also undermined the credentialed nature of the curatorial talent search. They want it both ways: to have professional youthful exuberance.