2014 Whitney Memorabilia
I started my visit to the “2014 Whitney Biennial” with the concurrent fifth floor exhibition, “American Legends: From Calder to O’Keeffe.” Even on a limited time budget, I couldn’t skip Calder, O’Keefe, Joseph Cornell, Ralston Crawford, Charles Demuth, Arthur Dove, Marsden Hartley, Edward Hopper, Gaston Lachaise, Jacob Lawrence, or John Marin. I had to see the painting surfaces of Stuart Davis, Roy Lichenstein and Alice Neel. I ran back three times to look at Alice Neel.
I thought I’d seen these artists works but now I’m sure that I really hadn’t until today. I looked close and then went down to see the biennial work on the fourth floor. Truly I saw Molly Zuckerman-Hartung only after looking again at Georgia O’Keefe. Or maybe it’s the other way around?
Intuitively speaking, the artists included in “American Legends” are a historical precursor to the works curated by Michelle Grabner, one of the three biennial curators, on the fourth floor. And now I’m smitten with Grabner. She’s curating from her gut. Grabner paired the figural abstraction by Gaylen Gerber and Trevor Shimizu with David Diao’s conceptual painting. Considering how overwhelming it is to see that much work packed into one space, this combination held my attention- especially after seeing “American Legends.”
Whether intentional, the work by Elie Nadelman’s Untitled (figurines), c. 1938-46, in “American Legends” led me right into Sterling Ruby’s Basin Theology, 2014 in Grabner’s fourth floor “Whitney Biennial.” Ruby’s disasters in clay have a crude sensibility not unlike Nadelman’s prepatory work. Composed of plaster and left with evidence of dirty grappling, unfinished carving and graphite sketches, the small figurines are shiny where the artist’s hands have daily imparted their wax. Ruby’s large conglomerate of clay surfaced in a glossy and wet glaze are like slobbery, dog-licked ashtrays. Should these things should be gross?
A rambling disorder of subjective experience, I was thinking about the barely-there painted surface of Alice Neel’s provocatively finished work, Andy Warhol, 1970 while looking at the back of Amy Sillman and and Pam Lins Fells, 2013-14 made out of plywood, oil, plaster, fiberboard and ceramics. Neel’s combination of a quick-witted use of materials and gesture drawing – it’s an unfinished yet highly done work- reminds me of Sillman. There’s a pretty large dose of confidence wrested into these works. Grabner’s got the confidence racket down as well- How to Make Something That Takes a Huge Amount of Skill Look Easily Dashed.
Tomorrow I might write about how much I enjoyed the work on the third floor and how it got me censored on Facebook. I’m sure I’m getting blocked on Facebook right now over my instantly Instagram shared photos- ha. Boobs and Dicks everywhere. While the “2014 Whitney Biennial” is over-packed with work, accept it and go. The biennal has a bit of everything and comes up with a lot of nothing to lots of people. It’s really a hot mess, and hot mess is said with only good intentions. Three curators surveying contemporary American art can only be, at this point in time, a hot mess. Disagreement and agreement over dogs and cats, politics and religion. Damned if you do and damned if you don’t. Content is tamped down and disguised into formalities. Or not.
Where else can you see two polar opposites of the gaze? Really throwing it to the wind- Bjarne Melgard rainbow colored Installation chock full of plastic, white, department display models sits uneasily against my recollection of A. L. Steiner’s More Real Than Reality Itself, 2014. Steiner’s multichannel video installation with copies and copies of photocopies, prints and paint features full on clitoris and “live and let lez” t-shirted women. I leave you with that.