WAY TO GO WHITNEY

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THE WHITNEY HAS HIT A FEW OFF-KEY NOTES IN RECENT YEARS, BUT THE RECENTLY CLOSED 2010 BIENNIAL IS (SLIGHT) CAUSE FOR CELEBRATION. TEXT Paul Bruno

 

 

Prior to this last visit, I hadn’t been to the Whitney in at least 2 years, for a very disappointing biennial. I remember an oversized litter box, large enough to accommodate several defecating adult humans. Other than that I can’t tell you that any other pieces in the show left me with any other impressions, save indifference.

Several biennials passed & with them several seasons. I don’t know if it was my undying optimism, starvation for some good art, or the many raves about the recently closed Whitney Biennial that kept landing one way or another in my ears or my web browser, but I decided to brave the pay-what-you-wish line around the block to give the Whitney another chance – and I’m very happy I did.

They got it right this time around. Aside from my personal enthusiasm for some of the pieces in the show (the best of which I will get to momentarily), it was impressive to see so many people in awe of the show as me. Viewers were oohing and aaahing, ignoring the guards to take photos of their favorites, even touching pieces when they thought no one was looking. While I knew that the museum would frown upon a lot of this rule-bending, it’s a clear indication that they’ve done something right – possibly even great?

If I were judging, Aurel Schmidt would walk home with Grand Prize. Her drawings combine impressive drafting skills and a dark, dirty imagination that you just don’t usually see paired with her style of drawing — not to mention the combination of materials used, including blood, beer and even dirt. She only had one drawing in the show, despite contributing two, and while I thought that the curators of the show did a huge disservice by excluding the second, the one they did show hit all the right notes. In Master of the Universe/Flexmaster 3000, Aurel depicts a towering minotaur, literally with a six pack of budweiser for abs, cigarettes for veins, and other trashy paraphernalia such as Vaseline, condoms, & Preparation H. I’ll admit that I came to see the biennial twice, just to get more viewing time with this piece. The second piece, omitted from the show (above) was a more detailed “portrait” of the bust of a bull, in bright magenta, with beer bottle cap eyes, crying cigarette tears. Stunning. All bets are on Aurel for future greatnesss — definitely keep her on your radar.

 

Walking home with first runner up is the talented Storm Tharp, with a series of 4 mixed media drawings, that to me, evoke the slightly morbid illustrations from the children’s book series Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark by Stephen Gammell. With an incredible sensitivity for colors, patterns and textures (ie: the fur stole on Miss Cloud, or the cardigan & outlandish medal slung on Dolores), Tharp gives each portrait a subtle, yet highly emotional impression, of both sadness and anxiety.

 

Other highlights from the 2010 Biennial include:

* Stephanie Sinclair’s disturbingly beautiful photograph series entitled Self Immolation in Afghanistan: A Cry for Help, documenting the treatment and rehabilitation of women with self inflicted burns in a rudimentary public hospital in Afghanistan. (Not for the faint of heart.)

 

* A silent short film by Rashaad Newsome, documenting the art of vogueing in silence, detaching the dancer from the beats that drive him. The dance moves themselves take on a sort of hypnotic effect.

* Pae White’s unbelievably detailed tapestry depicts plums of smoke. Her dexterity with the medium is nothing short of mind-boggling, observing the hundreds of various opacities created in the mammoth smokey image.

 

WHITNEY 2010 BIENNIAL

 

 

 






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