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Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The Dos and Don’ts on Collecting in Style: The 2008 Whitney Biennial
By Julia Morton

Things to consider before you visit the Whitney Biennial (through June 1).

Drink a cocktail beforehand since, the more you know about contemporary art, the more you’ll grumble—so drink accordingly. There’s very little painting and photography, but vast, dark rooms of video. Sculptures, installations and collages of every sort dominate the show’s fairly narrow range of aesthetic ideas.

If you know nothing about art.
So you’ll probably enjoy the show’s Disney-like qualities, after all, how often do you get to dodge sharp cultural objects, while trying not to bunt-kick the sculpture. You get to read some ladies diary, contemplate dung, concrete and chain link fencing, and do it all to the sounds of the guards chanting, “Step back, step back, no pictures, don’t touch."

Is it a sculpture, is it a painting?
Rita Ackermann (work pictured) slips her volumes of color, texture and imagery between two Plexiglass sheets to capture the objects in space and time. While Jedediah Caesar seals up his leftovers in resin to create a kind of modern marble, with veins of colorful plastic bags showing through. Language is seen repeatedly. Matthew Brannon’s letterpress prints feature ordinary phrases slices up into a random poetry, they float alongside his pretty random images. Meanwhile, Daniel Joseph Martinez surrounds you with the names of groups who blend religion and violence. Here reading slips into witnessing.

The light photographed by Louise Lawler, and Mary Heilmann’s colorful interiors squished flat into brutish abstraction, and titled "Out," "Spill" and "Truck Stop Trip," offer a rare moment of humor.

"Women’s Rooms" punctuate the galleries with works ranging from Lisa Sigal’s decomposing wall, to Ellen Harvey’s invisible portrait gallery, to Mika Rottenberg’s goat hut inhabited by video milkmaids with seductively long hair.

Charles Long took photos of blue heron dung streaking down a concrete embankment, then sculpted the “digestive” shapes with debris found along the road. Visitors can compare his efforts, and see where he slipped up.

Here’s were I slip you back in.
The Biennial, good or bad, makes one thing clear, much has been left unaccounted for. The city is ripe with artists of stellar quality waiting to add their voices to visionary collections, like yours. Do it right and who knows, a future art critic may complain about your museum.

The Biennial makes the point that artists work in communities, but finding groups can be difficult as more communities move to the outer boroughs. So check out: Be The First To Know, their upcoming tour of 10 artist’s studios will guide you safely through the Bronx. (for further information email for reservations.)

At one Amory event, the Biennial offered lucky patrons a portrait by Ellen Harvey. Portraits have returned to the age of me with a new value: self-expression. Painter Anthony Zito allows his sitter to bring a found object to use as the canvas. In his studio you’ll find the ashtrays are filled with thoughtful expressions, and clocks and books and bar stools too, a favor of mine is the Mexican Teen, her proud picture graces a used muffler.

And if you’re looking for some hip artist-run galleries check out the show at PS 122, up through March 23. It features two canvas paintings by Karlos Carcamo. Each features a stray canned street tag painted over with house paint and a roller. This simple image beautifully captures the complexities of social dynamics. And Jake Selvidio features videos of his divorced grandparents, each on their own screen describing their break up. You watch the grandpa cry, while you hear grandma talking peacefully about moving on. And in the hallway Linda Byrne has created a faux-forest complete with woods wallpaper, dead branches and bird’s nests made from six-pack rings. Low tech, high concept, no need to look for the statements or pedigree the works speak well for itself, and for the collectors who see it first.

New York Press

Julia Morton