But What Does It Mean?

Article excerpt

Byline: Peter Plagens

There's a double-gallery exhibition still up in New York called The Visible Vagina. It's another one of those didactic anthology shows purporting to bring some issue that artists think regular folk have either thought about incorrectly, or have repressed entirely, out into the open and, in the patois of today's art world, "address," "confront," "deconstruct," "unpack," and "interrogate" the hell out of it. Naturally, one of the galleries hosted a panel discussion. The participants included one male, Walter Robinson, an artist and editor of an online art magazine. (A few men, including Picasso and Robert Mapplethorpe, are represented in the show.) When his turn came to speak, Robinson said that, in the art world at least, the war with patriarchy is over, everybody knows all about vaginas--as well as penises--and nobody thinks anymore that women are mere sex objects subject to the infamous male gaze. From the audience--and this was a mild surprise--there arose only faint murmurs of disagreement.

Could it be, too, that other favorite art-world topics--race, ethnicity, LGBT issues, hyphenated nationality, and looming ecological disasters--have by now been "interrogated" into veritable dust? The upcoming Whitney Biennial of American art--usually the mother of all art-world interrogations--promises to reflect the new "been there, argued that" state of affairs during its run, Feb. 25 through May 30. Judging from the 50-plus artists included in it, this edition is going to be calm, cool, and collected (pun intended) to the point of possibly earning the sobriquet "the retrenchment Biennial." A whole lot of regular, old-fashioned painting and sculpture--that is, rectangles hanging on the walls and materially cohesive objects sitting on the floor--have made the cut, including works by painters George Condo, Suzan Frecon, and Jim Lutes, and sculpture by Huma Bhabha and Jessica Jackson Hudson. …