Photo diary/Culture Vulture: Whitney Biennial

March 13, 2014

(click photos to enlarge)

My friend Adam was visiting from Portland and wanted to check out the Whitney Biennial, so we converged there with Vincent — the three of us hadn’t seen each other since we were in Peru together last fall. Each of the three floors of the exhibition was organized by a different curator, each of whom enlisted various artists to sub-curate sections, which was a clever form of collaboration and good way of balancing aesthetic, thematic, and academic perspectives.

The first piece that caught my eye was a collection of backlit photos by Gary Indiana. I was surprised and amused that both Adam and Vincent thought this was the same artist famous for the LOVE design seen everywhere (including the much-photographed public sculpture around the corner from my house, at 55th Street and Sixth Avenue — that would be Robert Indiana) rather than the prolific, dyspeptic novelist, commentator, and former Village Voice art critic.

3-8 gary indiana pieceI’m not any kind of savvy connoisseur of contemporary painting, so the preponderance of work on the 4th floor (many by female artists, many in vaguely Abstract Expressionist mode) made little impression on me. The work on the 3rd floor, chosen by Stuart Comer (primary curator of media and performance at MOMA), was much more to my taste. My very favorite piece in the Biennial was Jacolby Satterwhite‘s dazzling HD video/animation Reifying Desire 6:

satterwhite video pic satterwhite lactate3-8 satterwhite wall plaque
That piece hovers right outside a room constructed by Bjarne Melgaard that another friend described “Peewee Hermanesque,” an adult funhouse full of oversized stuffed animals with phallic snouts, sofas to lounge on, and mannequins representing transgender models in transition. (Transformation is an ongoing underlying theme of this Biennial, the last to take place at the Whitney’s famous Breuer building on Madison Avenue before the museum relocates to a new building in the meatpacking district.) A beautiful, arty, explicit film of two guys having sex plays on a flat-screen monitor while news footage of public brawls flash on the walls of the room.

3-8 melgaard 1 3-8 melgaard 2 3-8 melgaard 3 3-8 melgaard 43-8 melgaard wall
Another theme that Peter Schjeldahl dwells on in his review in this week’s New Yorker has to do with commemorating dead artists, both those who significantly influenced their peers and those who died in semi-obscurity, many though not all of them from the generation of artists lost to AIDS. Some of what’s displayed isn’t artwork as much as artifacts of interest, like this mysteriously poignant wall calendar that David Wojnarowicz used to record appointments:

3-8 wojnarowicz calendarAnother piece I liked very much was Ken Lum‘s piece slyly replicating the signage at a mundane urban shopping center with references to the Vietnam War:

3-8 ken lum piece

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