Friday, March 28, 2008

Impenetrable prose from the Whitney Biennial

Random quotes from the publicity information about the artists in the Whitney Biennial:

…It is the problematizing of expectations and formalisms through destruction and transformations that is the heart of the continuing project…. (Todd Alden on Mika Tajima/New Humans)
…invents puzzles out of non sequiturs to seek congruence in seemingly incongruous situations, whether visual or spatial…inhabits those interstitial spaces between understanding and confusion… (Trinie Dalton on Amanda Ross-Ho)
...Thomson's inherently conversational practice both gamely Pop-ifies its often antiaesthetic historical precedents and resituates that generation's thought experiments in the social realm. (Suzanne Hudson on Mungo Thomson)
…features dozens of strips of junk mail spliced together and “stacked” in two zigzagging towers as if piled atop a desk: it is a conflation of art space and work space whose subtle allusion to the increasing corporatism of the art world is tempered by its intricate polychromatic delicacy…. (Lisa Turvey on Frances Stark)
... Bove's "settings" draw on the style, and substance, of certain time-specific materials to resuscitate their referential possibilities, to pull them out of historical stasis and return them to active symbolic duty, where new adjacencies might reactivate latent meanings." (Jeffrey Kastner on Carol Bove)
…creates space for the articulation of intention….(Suzanne Hudson on MK Guth)
…. This early work’s active impediment of a unified spectatorial vantage point has led the artist to investigate, in his words, “a variegated relationship between painting—a practice whose ossified discursive and speculative value I want to mark with its various economic and technical support systems—and the contradictions of discursive engagements that subsist largely outside the site of display, but which are value-producing sites nonetheless.”…. (Suzanne Hudson on Cheney Thompson)
…acknowledges the elusiveness of her practice in a conversation … “There is this great movie title for a film with Leonardo DiCaprio called Catch Me If You Can…about a con artist who always manages to escape. All artists are sort of like con artists.” (Suzanne Hudson on Fia Backstrom)

The Whitney Biennial is inconsequential except in how it isolates, as Jerry Saltz put it, “the current art school moment” (he would know, having visited more art schools than just about anybody)—and therefore the ways in which such schools are failing would-be artists. The very homogeneity of the show is a tip-off. Instead of aiding students in finding their singular voices and helping them to develop the methods that best put them across (here I’m not referring necessarily to traditional art techniques--although they are part of the mix--but whatever vehicle allows an artist to reach his or her fullest expression) schools rarely teach skills outside of the mouthing of terms and art references. Hence the emphasis on what Saltz termed “Home Depot displays.” Not that great art can’t be inspired by the local hardware store—Dan Flavin did a pretty good job of it—but in this case, easily available, cheap materials attached to lofty ideas are taking the place of mastery. I read once that more people graduate from art school each year than made up the entire population of Florence during the Renaissance. When schools stay in business by convincing everyone that by investing a couple of years and many thousands of dollars they can become an artist, there’s no room for true critical evaluation.

The most succinct summing up so far comes from an Associated Press review with no byline in the Baltimore Sun, which also notes the “unmistakable art school feel”:

New art, even the most seemingly inscrutable, has the job of engaging with the culture around it, moving and affecting it in some way. Showcasing work that rehashes common themes and styles seems an odd path for a biennial to take. When the mundane fancies itself novel, it becomes nothing more than slightly irritating.


barbara Poole said...

I'll be honest, I have not seen the Whitney Biennial. I was going to, I was at the admissions desk, when the the thought struck me, why don't you look at the catalogue first. After confronting pages and pages of artspeak and Hd installation after installation. I decided to go to the MET instead. I did not have to read a single thing looking at the Courbet exhibit, which is how I like my VISUAL art.

Anonymous said...

I thought this year's Whitney Biennial catalogue was better than some - certainly better than the 2006 catalogue. Rebecca Solnit's essay made sense and did not dip more than a toe into the jargon morass.

christopherlee said...

Actually I haven't seen the WhiBi yet either but I know what you mean. It's just the boilerplate of the age. I call it the "embarrassment of riches" of our age. So many people were economically able to go to "Art" college in the last 30yrs. You have alot of people who don't trouble themselves with quaint notions of inspiration and life experience. Which truth be told isn't ALWAYS needed to make great art.

Anonymous said...

this post has opened quite the spigot. i love it!

Carol Diehl said...

Yes, thanks to your link. Let it flow!

Anonymous said...

Many thanks for posting those ridiculous statements. I often interview curators and artists for radio broadcast, and whenever they lapse into this insane post post modern glossolalia, I start asking them to "more precisely define thier terms". Inevitably it breaks down into something one could have said much plainer and with a more concise turn of the phrase. But why do that when you can confound the masses and impress your friends in the biz? Once I was interviewing a curator from Belgium who had curated a show that NO ONE understood the labels of. When I asked her to clearly explain her organizing ideas for the exhibiiton, she actually got lost and finally laughed and admitted ON AIR, that she was essentially just making it up. I am always torn when reading tripe like the snippets you posted as to whether the writer (1) really has no clue as to how to write clearly or (2) is purposely writing in the most obscure way imaginable or (3) a bit of both.

Joanne Mattera said...

Sorry, I can’t comment on the Biennial. The interstices of my horological schema have been problematized by excess agendaization, juxtaposed against the prioritization of seemingly incongruous engagements.
Like, I‘ve been busy and it’s at the bottom of my to-do list.

Thanks for the good laugh, though.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much. The more people inside the art world who point out the superfluity of this kind of uber-academic-speak, the less aspiring art professionals and professors will feel the need to use it.

Anonymous said...

it's a common problem in the studio: some days one doesn't know if s/he should problematize thematization, or simply call into question the thematizing of problematization.

Anonymous said...

Oh Thank God it's not just me! The written descriptions at The Biennial were the most incomprehensible pieces of language I've ever seen, giving the viewer the clear impression that art is for the elite and not the masses. So what were the rest of us doing there?

Anonymous said...

There can't be enough "hell yeah" in the world.

The inevitable charge these wordsmiths hurl in response to criticism is "Nooooooo! You are promoting Philistinism! You make our speak ungooder by dumbening!"

The thing of it is, the dumb is there to begin with. I was reading Canadian Art one day, and there was an article written in thick biennalese. Once I parsed it, no small task, it became apparent that the article was about how this one artist used canvases with shapes other than rectangle.

Yes. The extent of his achievement was to have the realization that canvases have a shape.

I so wanted to hand him a lollypop.

Anonymous said...

hummm... I have seen it. And worse than that... heard the artists speak. Why do they let them do that? Ouch.
My favorite parody:
of Fritz Haeg. See the other url in the description box to see the original. I was so embarrassed for him!

Miriam Cutelis said...

Being in NY, it's hard to be creative without all this type of stuff floating around. I remind my art students that art belongs to everyone.....when I read the words you posted I feel that it's just a way to make themselves seem better than the rest of us......

Julie Caves said...

I admit that writing about art is difficult. But these don't seem to be really trying. Except I have to disagree about the Lisa Turvey one- it seems quite clear to me.