Sunday, March 28, 2004

What is it?

Saturday morning, I went to the Whitney Biennial, the latest in contemporary art. The Biennial is always controversial. For those whose art appreciation doesn't go past the Sistine Chapel or the Mona Lisa, this show has always been concrete proof that modern artists are pulling one over on us. "A basketball suspended in a fishtank? Don't be telling me that is art. That's a crime. That's what that is." "That's a giant penis. A penis. That's is not art. Someone should stop these people."

True story. One time at the Museum of Modern Art, I saw a couple gazing intently at a fire hydrant. When they realized that it was just a fire hydrant, they ran out of the room with very red faces.

I do like modern art. Sometimes, even the basketball in the fishtank. If I'm in the right state of mind, I can get into the nihilism and humor of a bronzed inflated bunny, though I can understand why it can piss off other people. If you are one of those pissed off at modern art people, the Whitney biennial is not your art show.

Amongst the pieces you would hate: A video of two guys vaguely dressed as Russian peasants tromping through a plowed field with handfuls of hay. The two guys walk across the screen and dump their hay and then go off screen where they get more and dump more and that's it. Another one that might make you unhappy was a sculpture of a stack of pancakes (representing a band) surrounded by fern fronds with lips (representing the audience). Yeah, those didn't do much for me either.

But there were several works that showed incredible talent and technical skill. David Hockney had some beautiful, loose water colors of interiors and rain on a porch. Julie Mehretu captured the energy and movement of a short hand city with bold swishes of color. There were some very memorable photographs. I particularly liked the dreamy photographs of surfers waiting for the perfect wave by Catherine Opie. (Check out the images on the Whitney website.)

If you're in New York City, I suggest going, though be prepared for a 40 minute to an hour wait. My friend Susan and I got there at 11:30 on Saturday, and the line of chain smoking art students stretched around the block. It was okay. It was a beautiful day. Prime people watching. Sigourney Weaver walked by.

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