30 April 2015

Institutionalized (Slight Return)

After letting the grumbling subside, curator & MoMA director Glenn Lowry and his associates belatedly fire back at the unanimous disapproval heaped upon them over the Museum's Björk retrospective. Huh, okay. For some reason, I always get suspicious whenever someone plays the populist/anti-eltism card. But maybe that's just me.

Relatedly, the last issue of New York magazine features two pieces concerning the unveiling of the new Whitney space; with Jerry Saltz critiquing it from the interior at length, while architecture critic Justin Davidson assessing Renzo Piano's overall design for the building as a whole. While Davidson doesn't dislike the building as a whole, he labels it "deliberately clunky" and at times offers some less-than-glowing things descriptions:

"Once it ages a bit, it will start evoking our Apple moment, when high-tech containers, from phones to cruise ships, had to have shiny metal casings and dark, satiny screens. There's nothing seamless about this awkward kit of protruding parts and tilting surfaces, though: The thing might have have arrived in an Ikea flat pack and then been prodigiously misassembled."

“Were I to judge the new Whitney exterior,” writes Saltz, “I’d say it looks like a hospital or a pharmaceutical company.” That aside, Saltz is far more enthusiastic -- if not effusive -- about the interior exhibition potential. And his piece is among the longest and more erudite that he’s written (to my knowledge) in a good while. Those who remember his tenure at the Village Voice about 10-15 years ago (and his brief stint with Modern Painters magazine) can probably remember how often he played the role of the art world scold -- venting about the bloated indulgences, excesses, and follies of various cultural institutions; calling for so-ands-so's departure; decrying on the absence of female artist in exhibitions and permanent collections, & etc.. Since he’s been with NYmag, not so much. But, in course of delineating the status and history of NYC’s four major art museums, Saltz slips back into that mode from time to time:

“The list of fun-house attractions is long. At MoMA, we’ve had overhyped, badly done shows of Björk and Tim Burton, the Rain Room selfie trap, and the daylong spectacle of Tilda Swinton sleeping in a glass case. This summer in London you can ride Carsten Höller’s building-high slides at the Hayward Gallery — there, the fun house is literal. Elsewhere, it is a little more ‘adult’: In 2011, L.A.’s MoCA staged Marina Abramovic’s Survival MoCA Dinner, a piece of megakitsch that included naked women with skeletons atop them on dinner tables where attendees ate. In 2012, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art paid $70,000 for a 21-foot-tall, 340-ton boulder by artist Michael Heizer and installed it over a cement trench in front of the museum, paying $10 million for what is essentially a photo op. Last year, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago mounted a tepid David Bowie show, which nevertheless broke records for attendance and sales of catalogues, ‘limited-edition prints,’ and T-shirts. Among the many unfocused recent spectacles at the Guggenheim were Cai Guo-Qiang’s nine cars suspended in the rotunda with lights shooting out of them. The irony of these massively expensive endeavors is that the works and shows are supposedly ‘radical’ and ‘interdisciplinary,’ but the experiences they generate are closer, really, to a visit to Graceland — ‘Shut up, take a selfie, keep moving.’”

At the New Yorker, Peter Schjeldahl is equally heartened by museum's new exhibition, and similarly blase about the Piano's design. I reckon the next time we can expect this kind of consensus is when the new Whitney Biennial rolls around, at which point everyone will go back to the rancorous poohing-poohing that unfailingly accompanies the event.

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