Four times this month I have dreamt I am
A murderer; and I am. These lines are paper boats
Set out to float on a sea of repentance.
--Robert Bly from The Pelicans at White Horse Key, 2004
This is the Biennial of the Greedy Soul. There's a lot of talk about the shouting and protesting in this Biennial; but what barely gets mentioned is how fucking sad it is, and how that sadness comes from the unquenchable and the futile.
It's like Biennials of the past in a number of ways. Messy. Controversial. Hit and miss. You know, the usual. This one, however, finds itself appropriately spinning out of control. Half of the works hadn't even been seen by the curators before they showed up for installation, and it feels like that. So utterly now that it almost seems like an improvisation. And like improvisation this Biennial scratches and claws at the moment in which it exists. Sometimes it falls on the stage. Sometimes it strikes the right note.
Urs Fischer kicks things off with his massive sections of knocked out walls at the beginning of the exhibiition on the 4th floor. The installation has Gordon Matta-Clark's sense of awe, but not beauty. That's OK. A little awe is what we need to get us in the mood. When stepping through the wall into an area where Fischer has placed a pair of motors, branches and dripping candles that create a Venn diagram on the floor both Richter and Naumann walk through that hole with you. Then you're on your own.
Here are some of the things I liked.
Jim O'Rourke, ever the Chicago bluesman, brings a sad and uneasy visual drone into focus by pairing it with musical dronescape that is even more unstable. Some have complained about the way that the sound bleeds into it's neighbors' spaces, but that worked for me. O'Rourke has a long history of intrusion and abuse of the instrument. In this case that instrument happens to be the walls of the Whitney.
Everything by Robert A. Pruitt was pretty spectacular, but my favorite piece was Glass Slippers. Nothing but the blues, man. Jagged.
Rodney Graham's Torqued Chandelier Release. Pretty things that can cut you spinning fast.
Marilyn Minter's enamel-on-steel wonders. Filthy glamour. Heel hell. Eye shadow.
Mile Davis' RU Legal No, it's not a very good painting, but to inject his voice into this onslaught of grief and confusion somehow made sense.
Hanna Liden's Black Sabbath. All her color prints were excellent, but the nod to the Sabbath cover was creepy with a capital 666. One of many appearances by Beelzebub's anti-spirit in a show whose bloody cup does runneth over.
Speaking of scary shit, there's Ryan Trecartin's A Family Finds Entertainment. It sure does. And so will you. Your eyes might bleed and your liver might shake, but you will be entertained.
In the end the artist that brought the exhibition together for me was photographer Zoe Strauss. Angry and sad. Heartbreaking and hilarious. Strauss has an astonishing sense of composition. She sees her subjects, both animate and inanimate, with some kind of mad unflinching love. With a heart like thunder and more moves than Dr. J, Strauss was a revelation.
The 2006 Whitney Biennial feels like an obituary. It reminds me of a dream I had once in which I was attending a funeral in the company of a wedding party. I don't know which side of this busted dream fence we're going to fall on when we wake up, but it might be too late to matter. This Biennial tells that story, and it's one of the saddest and dumbest stories you'll ever hear. This is us, 2006. Bang.
PS: The Peace Tower. Necessary, but sadly Quixotic.
PPS: The Wrong Gallery. It felt like a gift shop.
PPPS: Oh, yeah. The THEME. Day for Night. OK. Everything's inside out upside down backwards. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Got it. More than the Truffaut film, the phrase reminded me of the collection of poetry that appeared in response to the first Gulf War, Rooster Crows at Light from the Bombing. The title was a reference to the words of CNN anchor Bernard Shaw about disoriented roosters reacting to the night bombing in Baghdad.