The 2012 incarnation of the Whitney Biennial features (in addition to a huge slate of film and video screenings in a side room and performance on the 4th floor) relatively open gallery space with very few wall partitions, lots of small work hung simply around the open space, some creative (but not pretentious) installation strategies, and a smattering of handmade sculptures and low-tech installations throughout. In other words, the 2012 Biennial has adopted a modest DIY aesthetic that you might see at an artist-run gallery in, say, Bushwick.
Overall, I liked the human scale of the objects, the emphasis on the handmade (as opposed to professionally fabricated), and the way painting infused several conceptually driven installations. I have to go back to see the Forest Bess paintings and the video programming, but here are images of a few things that caught my eye on my first visit.
Kai Althoff's paintings hung loosely on a woven panel (by Travis Josef Meinolf) in the middle of the gallery. The other painting, an oddly shaped, six-sided multipanel piece, was hung close to the floor. Above: Untitled, 2011, oil, synthetic polymer, tempera, and varnish on fabric and silk, 52 ¼ x 57 ¾ inches. Collection of the artist; courtesy Gladstone Gallery, New York.
Cameron Crawford hung small painting-like objects on a constructed piece that tries to equate art making with useless labor. The wall text is stuck right on one of the objects, perhaps critiquing our incessant need to know. Do we prefer to read wall text rather than trust our own ability to construct meaning by looking closely and making intuitive connections? But I don't think Crawford had this in mind. The label position makes the piece look like an artifact in a history museum, and it may simply indicate that Crawford values artist's intent over the viewer's right to form a personal interpretation. But, of course, artists don't always know what the work is about. Sometimes years go by before we understand. Above: making water storage revolution making water storage revolution, 2012, poplar, paste wax, plaster, wood filler, oil on string, oil on organza, primed brass, primed steel, graphite and felt-tip pen on muslin, hardware, and hair, 60 x 180 x 12 inches.
The Four Seasons (1660–64). Koether, who is interested in creating a contemporary context for a traditional medium, wants to challenge her audience to "reconsider the framework through which they see and interpret paintings," but the installation and text seem overwrought. The light, agitated brushwork, illusive imagery, and art historical reference make the point. Above: The Seasons I, 2011, synthetic polymer and oil on canvas, glass, 67 x 86 3/8 inches. Collection of the artist; courtesy Galerie Buchholz, Berlin
Tom Thayer’s environments feature a little of everything: puppet-like figures, stop-motion collage animations, old portable record players, and, oh yeah, paintings, too, which he calls handmade backdrops. Above: Act VI: The Whelming, 2012, mixed media, 50 x 50 inches. Collection of the artist; courtesy Derek Eller Gallery, New York
Amidst a series of scrapbook-like collages based on the butoh-fu notebooks of Japanese choreographer Tatsumi Hijikata (1928–1986) are a couple of robust paintings by Richard Hawkins (lives in LA, born 1961) that reference Gustave Moreau’s (1826–1898) 1876 painting of the dancer Salome carrying the head of John the Baptist. Above: Salome Painting: Smoke Smoke, 2012, oil on canvas, 32 1/2 x 39 inches. Below: Salome Painting: Icy Balled, 2012, oil on canvas, 16 x 20 inches. Collection of the artist; courtesy Greene Naftali, New York, and Richard Telles Fine Art, Los Angeles.
2012 Whitney Biennial, curated by Jay Sanders and Elizabeth Sussman. Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY. Through May 27, 2012.
2012 Whitney Biennial: Long on video and film, short on painting
Subscribe to Two Coats of Paint by email.