Saturday, May 22, 2010

The Whitney Pla(q/g)ue

The Whitney Biennial 2010 validated a problem I encountered with the same museum six years ago: the fetishism of theory. I do not know if it is from the curators or the artists, but there is a tendency to finalize the experience of the artwork with overreaching statements. While I did like some of the work displayed, I will not go into details about them. What bothered me was that after looking at the artwork, I read sentences that I found perplexing. I felt like I was reading something movie commercials on TV would do. One superimposed text for commercial for Taken (2008) read, "Move over Bourne, here comes the next action hero." The former film is about human trafficking; The Bourne Identity is a film about espionage. Of course, the movie industry was forcing the action angle, and it seems that the Whitney was the authority of ideas, as Hollywood is the authority of wish fulfillment.

The "art world" theorizes like a secret that visitors stumble upon, yet this secret is revealed because it conceals a problematic within the art world: the art definition. Words like "Surrealist can draw romantic flights of the style, "weird" or "avant-garde." Instead of allowing viewers to exhibit the artwork, the curators allowed statements to represent the artwork. As a result, there is a severe disconnect between what you read and what you see. For instance, part of the description for "Michael and Charles," by Lorraine O'Grady, claims that the pairing of the pop singer and poet is "raising issues of class, race and the highly ambivalent nature of beauty that the new abstraction ignores." So Michael is black/Negro/African American, and Charles is French. Am I supposed to validate the ongoing struggle to demote white superiority? Are Jackson's standardized pop songs superior to Baudelaire's poems? Are they compatible? Hindering this line of thought I'm supposed to follow is a white ambulance/hearse in the middle of the room, spewing a female voice. Am I supposed to appreciate the photographs by being distracted? As for the "highly ambivalent nature of beauty," I guess those ads for Gap, Mabelline, and Calvin Klein make ambiguous statements. Why do women wear make-up, and why do men unbutton their buttoned shirts?

The plague of catchwords disseminate the infect visitors with the 'oh" response, so that they can proceed to the next artwork and nod along. Thus, the plaque narrows discourse by imposing an ideological wall, where one the other side "they" know what's going on with art these days.

by Raul Garcia

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