Above, a production still from Parisian-born Pierre Huyghes film shoot in Central Park. Like many of the 101 artists included in this years Whitney Biennial, Huyghes represents the new American artist as defined by this years curators.
Whitney Biennial breaks its rules
By Dean Daderko
As artists have become increasingly mobile, producing exhibitions and participating in residencies all over the world, its only natural that the 2006 Whitney Biennial, Day For Night, would adopt a more global view of art. The exhibition, which closes May 28, has historically been a two-year retrospective of work done by American artists, but curators Chrissie Iles and Philippe Vergne dispensed with tradition this year to capture the artifice of American culture, in all its complexity. For them, an American artist is one whose work contributes to the dialogues that are happening here in the United States, whether those artists live here, make work here, or contribute to these dialogues other ways. This is a welcome change, and as a result, much of the substantive work in Day For Night hasnt come from the classic epicenters of New York and Los Angeles, but from more mobile practitioners.
With their constant comings and goings, artists have become well-versed critics of the current state of U.S. politics, and find it increasingly necessary to address these views in their work. Mark di Suvero and Rirkrit Tiravanijas Peace Tower, for instance, reinvents di Suveros Artists Tower for Peace from 1966, a sculpture covered by 400 tiles of paintings reflecting antiwar sentiments from artists around the world. The original works caretakers were constantly threatened by vocal critics intent on silencing their anti-war dialogue. By comparison, the newer work installed outside the museum without any such fuss seems deflated, more like a sign than an action. But its point remains well made.
Iles and Vergne also explore contemporary artistic influences by including a number of senior artists whose work represents the current zeitgeist: Kenneth Anger, Ira Cohen, Dorothy Iannone, Sturtevant and Ed Paschke. (Cady Noland and Jack Smith are likewise all over the show, though their work has not been included.) Familiar or not, all of these artists have laid the groundwork for much of the art on view. A methodological approach of fostering dialogue inter-generationally is sorely lacking in many group shows, and Iles and Vergne should be credited for their constructive effort.
The shows commentary on the relationships between older and younger artists is not always as well executed, though.
When I entered Sturtevants room, for instance, one of the exhibitions highpoints, I saw a young man in period-garb standing amongst the 76-year-old artists repetitions of Duchamp works. He had just intoned the 21st Century is a carbon copy of the 20th Century into a mini-megaphone food for thought, certainly, but unless I had found Momus later to talk with him, I might have inadvertently assumed that he was part of the Sturtevant work, or even a rogue performer, and not an artist whose work was included in the Biennial. This is a case where confusion of authorship seems fairly productive, but it also points to the difficulties of presenting time-based and performative work within the museum context.
The most apparent downside of Day For Night is that the curators have organized an exhibition that explores a narrow visual aesthetic spectrum. Neon colors, silver and black, the psychedelic, the somewhat abject, and figuration are all repeatedly seen in works. While a limited visual range creates a framework that guides viewers through an evolving museum experience, it could easily seem like an affront to artists working outside of these modes. In the mire of this common stylistic palette, Marilyn Minter, Troy Brantuch and Jutta Koether stand out, showing us paintings strength.
Minters knockout photorealistic paintings are all glitter and glam, backed with serious studio skill, while Koether bears his soul from the flimsiest of materials. Brantuch makes quieter, more introspective pictures, like afterimages or ghosts that feel ready to disappear. Jennifer Allora and Guillermo Calzadillas video Sweat Glands Sweat Lands, 2006, is a musical, lyric, and visual essay. In one scene, rapid-fire notes issue from a guitar played by a woman leaning against a mobile obelisk of amps as it moves through the streets of a residential neighborhood in the night, full of urgency and grind. It is a portrait in which protest, frustration and pent-up energy are made concrete, and their materialization signals an opportunity to re-direct this energy toward action and resolution. Their work brings together its audience as a critical mass, with a voice that demands individual change. It delivers a powerful message with aesthetic punch, like many of this Biennials most effective and memorable works.
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