Well, it appears Trade Show Season has descended upon us again. As I say every year, once it starts, it can be overwhelming. Week after week, there's yet another gargantuan show with way too much to look at and absorb. The week of the Armory Show alone is daunting, with all of its orbiting concurrent events. And of course the Whitney Biennial just opened, as well. I found myself wholly inpired and yet consumed by Art Exhaustion when the weekend was over. You may look forward to another year full of great artist interviews here on Architextures.
The Biennial was far better than the last one. As I said to one of my coworkers (who, by the way, just started up a new blog with his wife, which is fantastic if you're into cooking, eating, and/or dining out), I'm just getting really bored with all this ugly, seemingly unfinished, construction material sculpture (which made up too large a proportion of the previous Biennial). Enough already. This year there were two of them. One by Thomas Houseago was somewhat interesting, but ugly. Another by Huma Bhabha was just ugly without the interesting part.
Now, I know I discuss the nature of beauty a lot on here, but I think it's one of the things that has very much been called into question in the past century in art. And I am conflicted, because works that merely look pretty over your couch have little place in a serious discussion. I do however consider even the silliest kitsch to be "art," we just don't need to call it "good art," whatever "good" means here.
I'm going to make the analogy with music. I absolutely adore the avant-garde, atonally experimental music that peaked in the 1950s. It challenges me, it's bold, sophisticated, and revolutionary. Modern composers who still need to do this, on the other hand, I can do without. I'm sure a lot of these pieces are doing complex mathematical things that someone with a doctorate in Music Theory would find brilliant. I can accept that. But it almost feels to me that these composers think if their work is beautiful to listen to, that somehow it will lose its integrity or respectability as a sophisticated piece of composition. That's a cop-out. My argument is this: if you are a truly talented composer, in my opinion you should be able to compose works that keep Music Theorists on the edge of their seats, but that are ALSO beautiful to listen to, at the same time.
I'll apply the same standard to fine art. There were a few examples at the Biennial. Aurel Schmidt's minotaur, for instance, is beautiful yet disturbing and a bit creepy at the same time. Nina Berman and Stephanie Sinclair's photographs, on the other hand, are terribly painful to look at, but are beautiful in their depictions of heart-wrenching sacrifice and in their acute poignancy. This, to me, is what art is all about. We're well past the point where art has to be ugly in order to be taken seriously.
As for the plaques, the one for the Bruce High Quality Foundation seems to suggest that the Cadillac hearse/ ambulance in the gallery was used in the movie Ghostbusters. But everyone knows the one the movie was a 1959, and the one at the Whitney is a 1971 or '72. I found that to be a strange error in wording. And one of the best pieces in the Biennial I suspect a lot of people might miss, because it's only a plaque that doesn't accompany any physical piece of artwork. It's by Michael Asher, whose entry into the Biennial was the suggestion that the museum stay open twenty-four hours a day for seven days. This has been shortened, but the Whitney will be doing it, from midnight May 26th to midnight May 28th. I kind of want to go show up at, like, 4AM one of those nights just to see what's going on there, what kind of people are there.
By far the best work at the Armory Show was somewhat hidden, and only a select few of you who went will know what I mean but will likely agree with me. You walk around behind this wall and find two awkwardly-shaped, dirty little rooms. The space to your right just has a refrigerator case with juices and sodas in it, and no room for much else. On the left side are two surly Armory security guards, one standing, the other sitting at a messy folding plywood table. They say "no," "this isn't an artwork," and "get out!" I couldn't find out who the artist was, but it was brilliant. [Doesn't it say something great about contemporary art that I'm honestly still not 100% convinced it wasn't a piece of artwork?]
©2010, Ryan Witte