Magazine article Artforum International

Mild about Larry

Magazine article Artforum International

Mild about Larry

Article excerpt

WHEN LAWRENCE RINDER WAS NAMED CURATOR OF CONTEMPORARY ART AT THE WHITNEY TWO YEARS AGO, HE INHERITED ONE OF THE TOUGHEST GIGS IN THE WORLD OF ART: THE WHITNEY BIENNIAL. BECAUSE THE BIENNIAL REMAINS CONTEMPORARY ART'S BEST-KNOWN SURVEY, HOSTED BY ONE OF THE ART WORLD'S MOST VISIBLE VENUES, IT'S THE SHOW CRITICS LOVE TO HATE. WE ASKED THREE ARTFORUM REGULARS, BOB NICKAS, BRUCE HAINLEY, AND GEORGE BAKER, FOR THEIR TAKES. (ARTFORUM.COM EDITOR SAUL ANTON ADDS A NEW-MEDIA FOOTNOTE.) THE ONLY CONSTANT: THE CARIPING, OF COURSE--AND ONE STRAY NOTE OF TRIPLE CONSENSUS.

BOB NICKAS MULTIPLE VOICE

"Where's the art? There's nothing to see." Thus spoke the well-dressed dowager as she teetered dangerously over the mutant sculptures of Luis Gispert. The artist, by way of a nearby wall label, refers to Remix (Extended Beats), 2001, as "a unique mix of ghetto style and Danish modem design." She wasn't having any of it. And Gispert's photos of cheerleaders seemed more taunting than cheering. She blinked in my direction, and though I shrugged sympathetically, she scowled--that grandmotherly look that says quite plainly, "You, mister, are this dose to being cut from the will!" The museum can only hope that she is not one of its benefactors.

Ladies from her tribe are everywhere in this part of town--just one of the reasons I so rarely venture north. Yet here I was, following her through the show, trying to listen in on her crankiness. But we were moving along too slowly and she didn't have much more to offer. Help arrived in the form of a junior high school group--two gangly boys in particular, who I railed back down to the second floor.

"Wow! This is so cool!" They were entranced by Ken Feingold's talking heads, disembodied but with moving eyes and lips (If/Then, 2001). The buzz of the crowd around the heads made their conversation hard to follow. Feingold's own name for the software that enables them to speak to each other is "artificial pseudo intelligence." But after shadowing the boys a while longer, I realized they were fitted with a similar program, and the "Oh wows" wore thin.

Now I was on my own, though it was hard to shake the feeling that I was still in junior high. Robert Lazzarini's anamorphically distorted pay phone (2002) and an installation by Forcefield, Third Annual Roggabogga, 2002, a terrific cavelike sideshow, were both being met by viewers with that same geeky, dumb wonder. So why was I turned on by one and not the other? The pay phone, given a room to itself, virtually basks in its own strangeness. And yet an everyday object made strange, and in the middle of a museum, is nothing more than a normal art object circa now. With Forcefield, the energy level is high and wild.

I was reminded that many expect the Biennial to function as a report on the state of art. Maybe that's why it's often criticized for not having a point of view. But moving from one floor of the Whitney to another, it's hard to miss the schizophrenic mood: all high-tech, gimmicky, and gadgety one minute then homemade, crafty, and funky the next. Uninteresting shows, like shortchanged humans, may have little or no personality, but this Biennial's personality is decidedly split.

On the way to Feingold's Al heads, you pass the wondrous realm of Trenton Doyle Hancock, whose works are among the few I would happily have spirited home. In the forest he pieces together on canvas, the trees are entwined with the phrase REMEMOR WITH MEMBRY, forming an endless stream of roots and vines. Nature, like memory, appears as a place that is very much alive and ultimately untamable. An equally fantastical landscape can be found in the drawings of the architect Lebbeus Woods, with cities envisioned as the rise and fall of the earth itself. While there are sections of sustained and heightened mood (Anne Wilson's black lace webbing as a prelude to Vija Celmins's gorgeous spiderwebs) and passages that flow hilariously (Christian Marclay's stretched-like-taffy musical instruments set the stage for Destroy All Monsters' Strange Fruit: Rock Apocrypha, 2000-2002, a Who's Who and a Who's That? …

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