Thursday, April 8, 2010

Giacometti, Kentridge and the Biennial

Alberto Giacometti, Full Figure III (1960), Museum of Modern Art

I have to admit I never really got Giacometti—until last Friday, when I was again at MoMA on what must have been the museum’s busiest day ever. It was a comparative study in human presence: milling crowds, silent nude stand-ins in Marina Abramović’s “re-performances” and, of course, Abramović herself. Her aura, which seems to grow more powerful with each day, filled the Atrium as she sat looking into the eyes of yet another ordinary someone. Then, leaving the Sculpture Garden, my eye caught Giacometti’s female figure, which suddenly seemed almost alive, towering over the lounging sun worshippers with a regal stillness that matched Abramovic’s. For the first time I understood that just as Monet was able to make atmosphere palpable in his paintings, Giacometti’s sculptures are not of humans, but their essence—the interior person made exterior.

I also didn’t get William Kentridge—but only because I hadn’t yet seen the MoMA retrospective, having been put off by the overwhelming hype (he’s definitely the artist of the year) which is not a good excuse. I left awed, especially by the miniature theater representation. I’m still kicking myself for not seeing “The Nose” (I hated the name—have got to revise my attitude), which my smarter friends told me was an amazing theatre experience. Sometimes things are famous for a reason.

Next was the Whitney Biennial, which has to be the blandest yet. After the bustling scene at MoMA, the Whitney seemed tired, wan, past its prime (there was a time when it was the other way around). Yes, there was a desultory queue to get in—it was Good Friday after all—but the galleries themselves were hardly crowded, the visitors wandering around with a “Why am I here?” look on their faces. I am, however, pleased to report that the video has been installed in such a way that it doesn’t distract from the static pieces and, unlike previously, I can’t have fun with the publicity material: this year the descriptions of art and artists are sensible, even readable. There’s no blurb for Charles Ray, however—did he request that there not be one, or have they just not gotten around to it?

I also went to the National Academy Museum’s annual invitational exhibition, and am beginning to feel that the whole survey show concept is so last century (or maybe the one before that—this is the 185th for the NAM). Perhaps the “Biennial problem,” its loss of relevance with each permutation, has not only to do with the Whitney’s choices, but that if one is seeking a true art experience, any exhibition where the work isn’t related through some over-arching theme feels increasingly like a waste of time.

The Biennial is the subject of David Cohen’s usually perky Review Panel on April 23rd, and I’m curious to see if three interesting critics (Roberta Smith, Christian Viveros-Faune, and
Svetlana Alpers) can be interesting enough to make the subject of uninteresting art interesting.


Celia Gerard said...

Hello, Carol,
I've just the spent a couple of days with Jane Rosen in CA celebrating her birthday, and somehow it came up that I'm a fan of your blog! I do check in often (but am often to shy to post). You're musings are always provocative - thank you! I particularly like this most recent one, not having seen the Abramovic show yet (gasp) but as a big Giacometti (in particular) and Kentridge fan - I love that you made the connection.
Brava and thanks for sharing your insights with us all.

Celia Gerard said...

My apologies for all of the typos in my previous post! How embarrassing! Maybe I should stick to cheering you on from the sidelines. I suppose I could blame it on a few days of CA sunshine... ;)

Carol Diehl said...

Hi Celia, it's delightful to hear from you! These are the things that keep me going. So, typos or no, comments are ALWAYS welcome. I hope you will make it a habit.

Nancy said...

I'm going back Wed. to spend more time with those Kentridges before they're gone.
Yes, The Nose was great, you have to love an absurd opera. Half the time a giant nose with two legs was running all about on stage. I now appreciate Shostakovich.
And I agree about the biennial, lifeless. Upstairs collection of earlier biennial participants was redeeming, a very early small Pollack on the back of masonite made my 18.00 fee easier to swallow.