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arts

Review

WHITNEY BIENNIAL 2008:


The “New (Art) World Order”
By Heather Corcoran

T
his year’s Whitney Biennial isn’t a
collection of great art. There aren’t
any apparent themes or stylish
trends, either. Together, the 81 artists
in the exhibition paint a very bleak snapshot of
the U.S.A. in 2008.
The bi-yearly survey of American Art, which
runs through June 1, fills nearly the entire mu-
seum. A chaotic installation by Jason Rhodes,
the L.A. artist who died in 2006, greets visitors
as it busts out of a small alcove off the side of
the lobby. Beads of Styrofoam litter a messy
office-cum-karaoke-lounge. It’s a good warm-
up for the rest of the exhibition, which favors
a cacophony of video and installation over the part of the Biennial it seems like the freaky
traditional art forms that have dominated the sideshow to the otherwise coherent Whitney
bullish market in recent years. main stage.
It’s not an easy exhibition to love – it’s messy Back at the museum, there is no subtitle
and, at times, ugly. Cumbersome installations and no concise theme to welcome visitors. (Left) Mungo Thomson’s Silent Film of a Tree Falling
made of unusual materials fill the galleries, and Rather, the curators offer hints of common in the Forest, 2005-2006.
seeing everything is a daunting proposition. But threads: mixed-up media, references to art
(Above) Walead Beshty’s Travel Picture Sunset
tucked within each corner of the museum are history, and studies of the topography of the
[Tschaikowskistrasse 17 in multiple exposures (LAX-
the types of connections that reward careful ob- typical American city. FRATHF/TXLCPHSEALAX) March 27-April 3, 2006],
servation. These themes are superficial, though. 2006-08. Collection of the artist; courtesy China Art Objects, Los
Visitors are encouraged to begin on any floor In their own ways, each work in the exhibi- Angeles, and Wallspace, New York
of the museum, or at the nearby Park Avenue tion speaks to the fear and nostalgia that come
Armory, where the Biennial spills over into a se- with a pessimistic view of a country in the midst
ries of installations and performances through of a war, an election and the technological age. a violent accident in Iraq, recalled by a veteran
March 23. Curators Shamim Momin and Hen- Together, the exhibition captures the apathy that for a Hollywood casting director. The overlap-
riette Huldisch offer no prescribed narrative for has come to characterize America today. We’re ping descriptions of confusion, frustration and
their exhibition. It’s a “holistic enterprise,” said clinging to a failed dream. miscommunication become eerily similar. It’s a
Huldisch, meant to “unfold in multiple ways,” A sense of defeat and longing and even good story, but who has the patience to listen for
Momin added. disgust is everywhere. Today’s de rigueur pop- 30 minutes, Fast’s casting director says.
At the armory, the audience is invited to culture references show up in Rita Ackermann’s Another apparent source of artists’ angst is
participate in everything from a dance-a-thon sculptural collages of tabloid icons. Hazy photos the disappearance of nature, the artificial sup-
to therapy sessions, in what feels somewhat like of abandoned spaces are scattered throughout planting the organic. Phoebe Washburn domi-
a clever marketing ploy. The exhibition makes the exhibition like whispering ghosts. nates the fourth floor with a mad scientist’s
the most of the armory’s creepy and recently While politics mostly appears in subtle ways, laboratory where neon Gatorade feeds flowers
renovated corridors, with each artist getting one on video, it is loud and clear and most effective. on a rustic wooden platform. A small part of the
room to transform. At the end of the cavernous American xenophobia and indifference towards installation’s (painfully long) title talks about a
drill hall, a video of a forest by Mungo Thom- other cultures seems to be on a lot of minds, like “Deep Down Thirst.” That phrase alone could
son flickers in a tiny bunker. In a library off a in a video by Olaf Breuning, where an obnox- sum up the entire exhibition.
baroque hallway, MK Guth and her assistants ious white traveler can’t wait to get back to New All of the artists in this year’s Biennial seem
ask visitors to write down what is worth protect- York. to be searching for something while quietly
ing – before ritualistically braiding the responses The most powerful piece in the exhibition, screaming. Wandering the museum, you can al-
into plaits of long, blonde hair. though, is also among the most overt. Omer most hear them, like a chorus. We may be more
On its own, the armory’s performances and Fast’s video installation “The Casting” presents linked up and tuned in than ever before, but we
installations would be a strong exhibition. As the intertwined stories of a lover’s quarrel and are seriously disconnected.

Resident The Week Of March 11, 2008 • 33