So, I’ve finally read the Peter Schjeldahl review of the Whitney Biennial printed in the March 17, 2008 issue of The New Yorker. My initial impressions of the Whitney show were pretty bad, but I wanted to keep an open mind to things and ideas I might have missed, I decided to see Schjedahl’s take on it, a critic I usually respect.
There is one basic mistake to Schjedahl’s review. “Lessness,” as he defines it, is an escape from the consumerism that so defines today’s art market. Is it possible for anything done by the Whitney to be outside the art market? Indeed, is not the purpose of this exhibition to help define and support the art market? What does a Roe Etheridge print sell for these days?
I do agree that sculpture is the strongest medium in the show. Ruben Ochoa’s piece constructed from the most unglamorous of materials is especially not worthy. There is both an odd elegance and monumentality to the seeming refuse defining the piece. I also take note of the Javier Tellez video, Letter on the Blind for Those of Us Who See. The video is subtle, visual, and poetic.
On the other hand, Sherrie Levine is grounded in the same ideas as always, though this time it is after Steiglitz instead of Evans. Karen Kilimnik’s paintings lack any kind of insight. As a friend of mine noted of her work, “The paintings are so weak that she had to put a chandelier in and the room and pipe in some music to make it all seem better.”
And as for John Baldessari, I’m not sure what to say about his work in the exhibition. My interest in Baldessari comes and goes, but his presence in this Biennial again underscores the misrepresentation of “Lessness,” those that work outside the mold.
I do like the Roe Etheridge photographs. I don’t think they translate into the exhibition very well, but I do like the freedom of his work.
Somehow, when John Cage spoke of less as being more, well it simply resounded with more meaning than this Whitney Biennial.