Published  10/05/2002

Manhattan blues


By general consensus, this year’s Whitney Biennial in New York has been something of a turn-off. Lawrence R Rinder, the curator responsible, has tried a more than transparent approach to his role. He has attempted a pastoral approach, rounding up and protecting his creative flock, with an emphasis on encouraging and recognising new work, in order to recover much of the critical centre stage blown apart by the 2000 predecessor. This show has a lot going for it for those who believe in the longer-term value of the event in the American art world, a world so dominated by dealers and market forces. Such artists as Kilgallen, Anderson, Johanson and Holloway, the quilted works of Rosie Lee Tomkins and the spiderweb paintings of Vija Celmins stand out as running close to that fulfilment. Then again, multimedia disasters, derivative photo clips and telephone booths scarcely disguise an inherent imbalance in a show which purports to reflect a California—New York centrality. There is far more of New York than the West Coast, with three artists from LA and surprisingly, by comparison, eight from Northern California, whence sprang the curator. This show could not travel to Europe without ridicule. But, on reflection, one could select the six artists first mentioned above, and reckon them a basis for regeneration. The remainder should be dispersed and never again be grouped, least of all as ‘Tribes’, ‘Spaces’ and ‘Beings’. They defy categorisation.

The Whitney remains a great American Institution, but after two consecutive plunges, its policy needs a radical overhaul. This is a seminal period for the nation’s creativity, when major redefinitions are occurring across the arts spectrum in music, literature and architecture. There is an identifiable groundswell as America renews in a changed world theatre. The next Biennial has to be a massive resurgence. Why not take a year off, until 2005, and be sure?

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