Saturday, March 4, 2006

whitney biennial 2006

I am not sure if this Biennial is really that boring, or if it is not, if I have just lost somewhere along the way the enthusiasm I was able to muster only two years ago toward art. Two years ago, I was still wide eyed about New York and this exhibit then seemed to contain all those thrills I saw contained here in this town, an intellectualism, a concern with beauty, a visual busyness, art - God, this was what I moved to New York for. I was hanging out with snotty art fags (Matt and Kevin) who probably made me take it a lot more seriously than I do now with no friends approaching anything close to the level of snottiness they were able to muster toward contemporary art.

I went yesterday to the Whitney, got there shortly after six and was surprised that there was no line at all, the day after the opening on the pay-what-you-wish night. Last time around, every Friday evening when I came, there was an obscenely long line that circled the block. Has everyone else grown bored with this stuff also?

I didn't feel like taking my headphones off, wanted to continue to listen to the Smiths as I wandered around the exhibition, which of course, since Chrisse Iles was one of the two curators, turned out to be a problem, since so much of the space was devoted to video art. I wasn't in the mood for video art. I rarely am. The demands it makes on your time and attention are something that have always bothered me. That it is the most totalitarian art form in its demands of the viewers - with other objects - writing, photos, painting, sculpture - you can approach it with whatever amount of time you want to devote to it; your thoughts aren't bullied by both sound and images and a darkened room; you have a little more wiggle room in how you choose to approach the piece. And so, I said Fuck you, Iles! Told myself that I would come back another time and look at the video stuff then. When you don't look at the videos, you slice off about half of this exhibition. For some reason, the Whitney seemed smaller than I remembered - is half of the floor space walled off or something? Or am I totally insane?

Or is it like when you go off to college and come home for Thanksgiving Break and find your bedroom and your house and your parents much smaller than you had remembered them? Has that much time past in these two years, that I think the Whitney has also shrunk?

Oddly, two of the artists who really struck me in this show were exhibiting photographs. Oddly, since I like to dismiss photography. Robert Gober's and Amy Blakemore's photographs are beautiful and haunting and touch something, some memories in me. Jamal Cyrus's pieces also touched me and made me happy because it was after wandering a floor totally bored looking at things that said nothing to me, that I rolled my eyes at, and which they didn't even notice because they were too self-absorbed. One of Cyrus's sculptures is a protective vest with all these dog eared black power paperbacks taped to the front (Angela Davis, Malcolm X, Eldridge Cleaver, etc.), and this piece touched me so much, because it is what I protect myself with, that I have all these dog eared books guarding my own heart, protecting me from the world. X's autobiography used to be one of those, back in high school, it probably still is there, just buried underneath all these other books I have come across since.

Again, I have to make the comparison to two years ago, this 2006 exhibition is so small, so hush voiced, so tame. It seems like any museum show, so much white space on the wall, so much quiet in the gallery spaces, small little pieces hung from walls. 2004 was big and loud and cluttered and there was something nicer about that, even though that is why it was critiqued. I can still remember some of those big pieces from 04 - Assume Vivid Astro Focus, Yayoi Kusama, Sue de Beer, Terrence Koh, Tom Burr - there was just a busyness with all of these big, beautiful installations. There are only two pieces that immediately grab you with their size and beauty - Paul Chan's "1st Light" and Urs Fischer's blown apart walls and circles of wax.

That is five artists that I remember, out of an exhibition of so many - that's not saying much. Maybe I just wasn't in the right mood. I am going to go back at some point and give it another chance. I only spent about an hour there before I was totally bored and got back on the train. The downtown 6 train was so crowded and there was this beautiful man standing about two people away from me and I kept staring at him off the reflection of the window, and occasionally for brief glances looked at him directly. I was so excited and felt such a sexual charge from this glancing and started to get a bit of a boner, which doesn't really happen to me from just looking at someone, but for some reason, I was so excited. This was a local train all the way to 14th Street, a long ride, and that sexual giddiness I was experiencing was too much, the sustained nervousness and happiness made me smile and feel something that I had wanted to feel when I went off to the Whitney earlier, a thrill towards life, and this man, this stranger revealed more to me than the efforts of two curators and countless artists were able to.

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