Saturday, September 13, 2003

To be human, or not to be

Today, on my last day in New York (at least till the holidays come round), I visited a few Whitney exhibitions; capsule reviews:

  • "To Be Human": so-so. For most of these paintings, I Didn't Get It.
  • "The American Effect": also so-so. Most pieces were rather, umm, obvious. In these charged times, however, this show will probably get more press than any other currently at the Whitney, or anywhere else for that matter. To wit:
    • Predictably, The Voice mistakes like-minded politics for good art, and the National Review uses the show as yet another excuse to engage in chest-thumping political posturing.
    • WaPo's Blake Gopnik weighs in with a choppy review that veers between snarky dismissiveness, petty defensiveness ("We do too give South Africa fair coverage! Besides, look at the French!"), and misplaced reverence (my only response to Mark Lewis's video piece was that he should have hired a professional Steadicam operator). Also, news flash Mr. Gopnik: when you lead a story with a reference to a New Yorker cartoon, you're in no position to chastise anyone about provincial navel-gazing.
    • Speaking of which, the New Yorker very nearly parodies itself as Peter Schjeldahl's article quotes Eliot's "Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" in its opening paragraph; the piece shortly redeems itself, however, with probably the most on-target assessment I've seen anywhere in the press.
    • The Houston Chronicle's Tomas Eloy Martinez mysteriously lauds Hisashi Tenmyouya's facile nationalistic cartoons. As someone of Korean descent, I find it ironic in the extreme that a Japanese artist can view Japanese nationalism as a reaction against American imperialism.
    • Jill Conner of the Brooklyn Rail (a paper which I flamed earlier on this blog) leads with the obligatory genuflection before the audience's presumed political prejudices before admitting that the art's not very good.
    • Finally, my adopted hometown's paper runs a bland AP wire story that says nothing interesting whatsoever. Blech. This is why my Sunday paper is the print edition of the New York Times.
  • Last show of the day: Sarah Sze's installation "The Triple Point of Water". For me, this was today's highlight, a piece that creates its own intricate and self-referential world, yet resonates with our world as well. It's the rare piece whose obliquity does not undermine its relevance.

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