Saturday, May 15, 2004

Made it up to NYC to check out the Whitney Biennial and 'Singular Forms (Often Repeated)' at the Guggenheim.

A lot of the work at the Biennial leaned towards video and instillation. Much of the work in these categories was good with a few exceptions, as can be expected in such a far-reaching survey show. The better side included work by Yaoyoi Kusama ('Fireflies on the Water'), Assume Vivid Astro Focus' psychedelic room-sized instillation was just plain fun and Phiadelphia-based Virgil Marti's 'Grow Room 3 was gorgeous. Catherine Opie's minimal and haunting photographs of surfers in fog shrouded waters were winners. I really liked Chloes Piene's video 'Blackmouth'. It featured a young woman outdoors covered in mud (blood?) at night who behaved like some kind of wild beast, flailing herself around with erratic movements, crying and bellowing with the help of a dubbed soundtrack of slowed down animal gowls and yells. It was the kind of work that left me wanting more, but in a good way.

Cory Archangel's video sculpture of cloud images hacked from an old Mario Brothers game was inspired. Tam Van Tran's two beautiful, wall-mounted mixed media pieces of green alge stained paper and literally thousands of staples also stood out.
To my considerable disappointment, painting was not very well represented. The one exception being Julie Mehretu's 'Empirical Construction, Istanbul'. I also liked Cameron Martin's 'Untitled (100)', a largish painting of what amounts to rock silhouettes set in an open space. Cecily Brown has to be my least favorite living painter and the works in the Biennial didn't do anything to change my mind. Mel Bochner's word-play paintings were clever for a minute but not very exciting aesthetically.

I really don't understand why the curators couldn't find better painters to be represented in this year's Biennial. I don't know what the selection process is like, but it doesn't seem like they tried very hard.

In comparison, the Guggenheim's 'Singular Forms' exhibition was much more consistent. This is to be expected when you are dealing with more narrowly defined areas of art such as Minimalism and post-Miniamalism. This show, with works culled from the Guggenheim's own extensive collection, does a good job of tracing the development of the minimalist asthetic. As I walked along the ramps, I was struck by how rich the history of minimalsm is as well as the richness of forms and materials employed by artists over the years.

There were the 'usual suspects' like Serra, Stella, and Judd but also others I hadn't heard about like Karin Sander, whose high-polished wall section and chicken egg were welcome surprises to behold. There were a couple of Brice Marden paintings from the 60's and early 70's I liked a lot. Doug Wheeler's wall-sized 'Untitled(Enviornmental Light)' was an ethereal sensory delight. Another well-known 'light artist, James Turrell, was represented by 'Afrum 1', a projection that was beautiful and confounding in it's simple yet demanding optical play with geometry and architecure. Robert Ryman's 'Surface Veil' paintings were huge, wall-sized affairs that were good examples of why bigger isn't always better. Callum Innes, a favorite contemporary painter, had a wonderfully subtle white-on-white painting from his 'Exposed Painting' series included here.

All in all I was happy to see so much art up close and personal. Although I had mixed feelings about the Biennial, I was glad I had the chance to experience the installations and video work first hand. I try to keep up on what's going on by reading and browsing through various art magazines, but I simply cannot relate to writings about work that requires direct interaction or viewing: I have to physically experience the space and watch events unfold over time as they were intended. Reading about painting and some sculpture or looking at reproductions of such work is much easier than viewing photographs of installations or video stills.

I spent part of yesterday in the studio and later had to work. Today, I did a lot of running around: Picked up my painting from the Cheltenham Art Center, got my hair cut, went to the gym, home to eat, then to the studio and painted for a few hours. Tomorrow, Jim and I head out to Harrisburg to deliver our paintings to the State Museum. I also returned a call to Bridgette and found out that four small paintings of mine sold from Dane Decor on Arch Street. That was certainly welcome news. Just the other day I was thinking about things I need to get done soon and that I needed to make some extra cash. What timimg!

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