Saturday, May 08, 2004

OK, SO I’M A PHILISTINE. I finally got to the Whitney Biennial last night. This was my third or fourth WB, and by far the one with the most polymers. I was too stupified to take notes, but I did get a few laughs. One guy pasted matted fur to animal skulls, one of which was attached to a skeletal structure made of plaster and detritus; little wire birds pulled from its guts lengths of Italian Christmas lights, perhaps signifying entrails. In another installation, pixelated clouds moved slowly across a blue screen while futuristic music of the kind Chris Sarandon played for Margaux Hemingway in Lipstick blared from a stereo. This was called Super Mario Clouds.

But in the main it was awful: a collection of goofy items, like a stylized Roman Centurion’s helmet with a fried egg stuck on it; a full-sized, glass-panelled dumpster packed with industrial waste (a towering rebuke to the notion that a good idea will make a good work of art); little rooms filled with lights or plaster dust. The time and money that one imagines was spent on these hideosities were nearly as wearying as their spectrally thin aesthetic effects.

The painting and drawing (with the exception of some ringer Hockneys) was even worse. Most, like Julie Mehretu’s palimpsests, are at first glance interesting, until you realize that whatever deeper mysteries they might reveal upon contemplation are bland and mechanical. One might as well be solving rebus puzzles.

assume astro vivid focus did a big, nice-looking room pasted over with old advertising and hi-life images. In an exhibition filled with renderings that at their best rise to the exalted heights of commercial illustration and interior design, this is at least crafty, and gives some extra seconds of pleasure. But it struck me that a.a.v.f. was taking the imagery at face value – that the whole thing was just a force multiplier for the original effects wrought by admen and graphic designers.

Film and photography were better. Slater Bradley had a nice short with Stephen Hawking’s voice-box thing on the soundtrack, expostulating on the universe, while a home-movie camera scanned the faces in a children’s choir. This made a better effect than the other children’s choir thing, with a skeleton conducting. (This was one of the multi-screen pieces, the idea of which seems to be that it is bad to indoctrinate kids; another filled a room with cow’s udders.) Chloe Piene showed a girl in a tank-top and panties splattered in mud, roaring; when I realized another girl wasn’t going to come in and wrestle with her, I lost interest.

The saddest commentary came from a tour guide explicating some crappy painting to her charges. In a sidebar she mentioned the recent Giorgio Armani show at the Guggenheim, and said, "We’ll see more of this kind of collaboration of art and commerce in the years to come."

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