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Every Other Year

- 14th of Apr. 2010 -


It is quite exciting to go through, almost like a survey of American Art over the past few decades.

Last week I visited the Whitney Biennial, on show till May 30, at the Whitney Museum Whitney Museum in New York City.  Only 55 artists are displaying their works and those are spread throughout the museum’s floors.  The top floor contain works from the permanent collection that were displayed in past Biennials under the title Collecting Biennials Collecting Biennials. It is quite exciting to go through, almost like a survey of American Art over the past few decades.  All in all, the Biennial is a very impressive show that manages to cover a pretty large spectrum of styles and artists, while keeping a pretty similar line throughout.  Considered a woman’s Biennial, simply because for the first time there are more women presenting than men, this show is brighter (much of it is white) than past Biennials and has somewhat a hopeful tone to it, even as you walk through a room full with photos of women who harmed themselves in order to escape abusive marriages (Stephanie Sinclair’s Self-Immolation in Afghanistan: A cry for help, 2005.)

There are many works that revolve around presentation of self, of want and of need. There are many that speak to the art world as it has been represented in past Biennials.  It is mostly a thought-provoking show with some very interesting curatorial choices as most adjacent pieces speak and communicate with each other, either on the same ideas or on completely different ones.  There is a sense of relevance wrapping it all, as it seems, more than ever, that the art world is joining forces to get a message across. 

Since the show is not huge in volume and thanks to the quiet tones that pretty much control the displays, one can go through it without feeling visually overwhelmed.  It is very hard to pay attention to everything in one swing, especially if you are, like I was, on a timed schedule.  Take a few hours for it or plan two visits - trust me, it is worth it. 

Here are a few of my personal favorites so far:

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Scott Short, Untitled (White), 2008.

Created by photocopying a craft page, then its copies over and over again this is essentially the “noise” created by the copier which Short later painted onto the canvas.  The abstract is essentially created by a machine, not from human emotion.  Short questions authorship and origin in ways that are refreshing and exciting.

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Roland Flexner – Sumi Ink Drawing, SN70, 2006.

Flexner works in an old Japanese technique that involves ink, water and gelatin.  The result is a series of small, postcard-size, negative-looking, even extraterrestrial landscapes.  To me some of them are reminiscent of microscopic photos of viruses.  Exhibited in a large number and taking up a whole wall, they all evoke something in the viewer, calling to come closer as they take over your entire field of vision.

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The Bruce High Quality Foundation, We Like America and American Likes us, 2010.

Created especially for the Biennial by this anonymous artists group, the piece is completely compiled of readymade materials, starting with the car and down to the YouTube videos that are screened on the windshield. Speaking to so many different aspects of the art world, in its historical and current modes, this work has been depicted by others as the one that pulls everything else on the show together, a description I will have to agree with. The 18 minute long video loop seems to nail people on the spot, using visuals, audio and memory to lure them in.

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Storm Tharp, Jodie Jill, 2010.

Tucked away in a small side room on the second floor, these are easy to miss.  I found them because of the video that shares the room with them and could be heard from across the floor (an interesting curatorial choice, making use of every single space. Tharp works in a very interesting technique, starting with water, adding drops of ink and then creating the portrait.  The result, though sometimes not very complimenting to the sitter, is always impressive and in my opinion, so beautiful they almost brought me to tears.

There are many good art shows in New York at the moment (hopefully I can get to them all…) and it is sometimes hard to choose which one to pay attention to.  The Biennial is one that should not be missed.  I think it is refreshing, interesting and completely representing of the American Art world as it is today. Totally worth the visit.

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