Saturday, May 1, 2010

The Whitney, Alone

It always annoys me that one is not able to take photographs or video while wandering through museums (at least in NYC; the same rule didn't apply the last time I was at the Georges Pompidou Centre in Paris). While I appreciate the fact that it saves me from having to view tourists gathering around art objects for a photo – indeed, now that I think about it, maybe it's not such a dumb rule after all – I still resent the fact that one can only do this (take a photograph) clandestinely. For me, often the most interesting "visual" within a gallery space is not found in the art work itself but in the relation that is established, or not, between work and spectator. I like to see the art work refracted through the movements – or stillness – of the museum's visitors, sometimes huddled in masses; sometimes exposed and alone. I particularly like when the latter occurs, which rarely happens in the cluttered spaces of NYC museum spaces. It was thus nice to see less, rather than more, at the more modestly-scaled Whitney Biennial 2010, although I think they should have cleared another floor for the new exhibition, giving the works even more "breathing" room. Above are three (illicit) images from Ari Marcopoulos's Detroit, projected on a wall-sized screen in a large, mostly empty room, as part of this year's selection. (Note the size of the image in relation to the emergency "Exit" sign.) By this point, I had lost track of where most of the students had gone – ciao Susana, Brian, Caldwell, Maria, Raul, Lukas, Katherine – and it was okay. Art needs a bit of solitude. I like too the experience of leaving such an event and re-entering the "real" world alone. This is what we need more time for: art and solitude. Indeed, what is art except this ability to experience – however fleetingly, however momentarily – a bit of solitude from a world that assaults us at all times and on all fronts. A solitude that allows us to return to the world with renewed interest and attentiveness (the world in all its depth and opacity) as well as a renewed commitment to resistance: to resist the false solicitations that lead us to trivialize the world and ourselves.



  1. I felt like if we were dancing a strange dance, appearing and disappearing through the different rooms. That was especial and memorable for me. How our different rhythms came to synchrony in a second and changed almost immediately.

  2. Sam, the solitude that you described at the end of this post is exactly why I think that the no photography rule is essential. Cameras ARE allowed at the MOMA and typically lead me to have a grumpy experience whenever I visit. I find it impossible to interact with a piece of art when there is a constant rush of tourists standing directly in front of the piece and have their picture taken with it.

    If cameras were only used in the thoughtful way that you mentioned I think that would be wonderful. Unfortunately, the majority of people that fill these gallery spaces only use their digital cameras to claim a sense of ownership over the piece -- I was here; see, this is me standing in front of art; this piece of art is now mine. When this happens around me, I cannot interact with the art in anyway, instead I am entirely focused on, and annoyed by, my surroundings.