L: "Peace Tower" (2006) by Mark di Suvero and Rirkrit Tiravanija.
R: Paul Chan's "1st Light" (2005). Photos Librado Romero/The New York Times
Excerpts from reviews of the Whitney Biennial cranked-out so far:
NYTimes Art Review
Biennial 2006: Short on Pretty, Long on Collaboration
By MICHAEL KIMMELMAN
Published: March 3, 2006
Maybe it's impossible, or impossible for the Whitney, to do a show today that doesn't seem beholden to fashion and, for art world types, familiar. Francesco Vezzoli's movie-star-studded version of a trailer for Gore Vidal's "Caligula" was a one-note gag when it was screened at the Venice Biennale; it's a tired joke the second time around.
A biennial can have many purposes. This one is partly about preaching to the converted. It is packaged — branded might be the better word — as a show long on collaboration and open-endedness: several shows under one roof. But it has other goals, too. You wouldn't say bliss is one of them. Not much in it leaps out as simply beautiful, with a few exceptions. Paul Chan's digital animation orchestrates images of shadowy objects like cellphones and bicycles, floating upward, Wizard of Oz-like, while bodies tumble down, the work cast as if it were light from a tall window slanting onto the floor of a dark room.
And Pierre Huyghe's film, shot in Antarctica and Central Park, is really gorgeous: crosscut between day and night, fiction and reality, it encapsulates the show's operative — but ultimately airy — metaphor about the slippery state of art now. ("Day for Night" is the biennial's first-ever title, after the François Truffaut film.)
If the exhibition is short on easy pleasures, of course nobody said art had to be easy. The organizers are Chrissie Iles and Philippe Vergne. European-born, they've brought in many foreigners (the traditional Americanness of the show long ago ceased to have meaning), and they recognize, which Americans are often reluctant to do, that the flow of influence has been going both ways across the Atlantic for a while.[...]
The last biennial was ingratiating, an upbeat truce brokered by a troika of curators, including Ms. Iles, which aimed at a broad public, as most biennials do. It was colorful, pleasing, not particularly taxing on the eye or brain, but clever and full of nifty, crafty objects, with enough oddball inclusions, crusty old-timers and resuscitated reputations to satisfy mild skeptics.
In retrospect that show dovetailed with a gathering tsunami of newly rich, clueless collectors infatuated with bright, neatly made, vision-free art, some of it groovily retro-chic (lots of outwardly snappy, vaguely melancholic 60's-style psychedelia with dystopian vibes; "collectives" became a buzzword again).
During the intervening months, virtuosic ditties by 20-somethings came to look more and more familiar and strategically inappropriate, including to savvy money types who run the art business and know the pitfalls of bad marketing. Among other things, the art world, or a conspicuous part of it, seemed tactlessly out of touch with a larger world going to hell. Then last year came "Greater New York," P.S. 1's nearly pedophilic riff on a biennial, to which the current Whitney effort seems an unspoken response. [...]
The artists Mark di Suvero and Rirkrit Tiravanija have revived Mr. di Suvero's 1960's "Peace Tower": they've commissioned colleagues, who in turn invited friends, to devise two-foot-square panels, minimanifestos or whatever the artists wanted, which hang on and around what resembles a giant Tinkertoy construction rising from the Whitney's courtyard beside the museum entrance.
"Down by Law," yet another group show within the biennial, with a stress on identity politics, is organized by the fashionable Wrong Gallery, whose principals include Maurizio Cattelan, Massimiliano Gioni and Ali Subotnick.
Conservatives — also citing Richard Serra's "Stop Bush" poster, antiwar programming from Deep Dish Television Network and three videos by the group Critical Art Ensemble, including one about the tribulations of its own Steven Kurtz, a Buffalo artist indicted by a federal grand jury for obtaining biological materials — will no doubt dismiss the whole exhibition as another political show like the 1993 biennial.
But this show's not like that one, which went out of its way to thumb its nose at many people. "Down by Law" is a disappointment because it's bland. And "The Peace Tower" is old-school civic protest, almost quaint — a genuine, albeit predictable response to what's going on in the world that makes no claims to being anything other than what it is. And why shouldn't artists get together to say something about war and peace, in the midst of war, if there is an opportunity like the biennial?
"The Peace Tower" is ad hoc. The whole ethos of the show is provisional, messy, half-baked, cantankerous, insular — radical qualities art used to have when it could still call itself radical and wasn't like a barnacle clinging to the cruise ship of pop culture. [read full article]
via Artnet (3/3/06):
"Whitney Biennial 2006: Day for Night," Mar. 2-May 28, 2006, at the Whitney Museum of American Art, 945 Madison Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10021
"Day for Night" is the liveliest, brainiest, most self-conscious Whitney Biennial I have ever seen. In some ways it isn't a biennial at all. Curators Chrissie Iles and Philippe Vergne have cleverly re-branded the biennial, presenting a thesis not a snap-shot, a proposition about art in a time when modernism is history and postmodernist rhetoric feels played out. This show and the art world are trying to do what America can't or won't do: Use its power wisely, innovatively and with attitude -- be engaged and above all not define being a citizen of the world narrowly.
"Day for Night" is filled with work I’m not interested in; it tries to do too much in too little space; it is often dry and confusing. Nevertheless, the show is a compelling attempt to examine conceptual practices and political agency, consider art that is not about beauty, reconsider reductivism, explore the possibility of an underground in plain sight, probe pre-modern and archaic approaches, posit destruction and chaos as creative forces, and revisit ideas about obfuscation and anonymity. This show is less market-driven than usual; in fact it attempts to cross swords with conventions that have brought us to the brink of madness. It's also an anti-manifesto taking on romanticism, expressionism and decorative psychedelia. [read full article]
Work by unknown pranksters at the Whitney Biennial 2006
via Artnet (3/3/06):
Anxiety is in the air at the Whitney Biennial 2006. The zeitgeist is uneasy, and curators Philippe Vergne and Chrissie Iles are plugged into that -- "people are angry," Iles remarked at a curatorial roundtable last month, reflecting on her year-and-a-half-long research for the event. And indeed, the show has plenty of angry and disturbing work on view.
But jumbo-sized art spectaculars like the Whitney Biennial make for uneasiness in general, with their demands for so many divergent and competing modes of viewing. Each time someone asks, "What do you think?," it feels like a pop quiz.
It doesn't help that Iles and Vergne seem to have set out, curatorially, to stump the viewer. The show is a bonanza of fake artists (Reena Spaulings, et al.), off-the-wall collaborations (Dan Graham and Japanther, anyone?), jokes (a mini-exhibition by the Wrong Gallery) and puzzles (pictures hidden away in nooks and crannies), as well as curatorial bait-and-switches, like including paintings by musicians Miles Davis (if that is indeed who made the work) and Jack Johnson. A considerable amount of homework is required in order to feel confidently on top of one’s game here.
Of course, for viewers with performance anxiety, there's always the wall text. [read full article]
(via e-flux) Artforum, March Issue:
The Peace Tower at the 2006 Whitney Biennial
Regular Artforum contributor Jeffrey Kastner speaks at length with artists Irving Petlin, Mark di Suvero, and Rirkrit Tiravanija about the Peace Tower project--originally conceived and made by Petlin and di Suvero in 1966 to protest US involvement in Vietnam--resurrected this month in the Whitney Museum courtyard as part of the institution's grandest show.
Whitney Biennial brings Iraq "Peace Tower" to NY
NEW YORK (Reuters) - A giant "Peace Tower" with panels by 200 artists likening the war in Iraq to Vietnam will be the first thing to confront visitors entering the leading showcase of contemporary American art, the Whitney Biennial.
"The anti-war sentiment among artists has been very strong, it's what we felt everywhere, whether we were at an artist's studio doing abstract paintings or whatever," said Chrissie Iles, co-curator of New York show which opens on Thursday at the Whitney Museum of American Art.
"It's just a general sense of anger that they feel, this sense of things falling apart," she told Reuters as the museum unveiled its Biennial 2006 to the media ahead of the opening. The show will run until May 28.
The "Peace Tower" was assembled by artists Mark di Suvero and Rirkrit Tiravanija in a recreation of a 1966 project in Los Angeles called "Artists' Tower Against the War in Vietnam."
Some of the panels are paintings; others resemble demonstrators' placards with messages such as "Kill not," "VietIraqNam," and -- incongruously -- "Free beer." The 50-foot (15-meter) tower stands in a sunken courtyard and rises past the main entrance of the museum on New York's Upper East Side.
Philippe Vergne, who curated the Biennial with Iles, said the "Peace Tower" creators had tried to set it up during the 2004 Republican convention in New York but were unable to complete it.
"When we heard that, we approached them and asked if it was possible to do it here, since the war is not over," he said.
"It's not only Iraq, it's what's happening in Sudan, it's what's happening all over the world," Vergne added.
He said war was not so much the theme of the show -- which also includes work that is not directly political -- but rather an overall backdrop for contemporary art.
"It's not a theme, it's a reality. In every studio visit that we have done it was there -- anger and disappointment and melancholy," said Vergne, who spent more than a year with Iles traveling to find work for the Biennial.
Among the more overtly political work is a painting called "Stop Bush" by Richard Serra. It shows a hooded figure in an iconic image taken from photographs of Iraqi prisoners abused by U.S. soldiers at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.
A video installation called "Shocking and Awful" features films with titles like "The World Says No to War" and "Empire and Oil."
"We're not going to stop the war, but maybe it's going to force people to think a little bit differently and not take things for granted," Vergne said. "If art can change the world for one person, that's good enough for me."