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Weekly Update – Strauss’s Whitney


This week’s Weekly includes my review of the Whitney Biennial. I know, you’ve read about it here and here to say nothing of there and there. Zoe Strauss is the reason to go. I guess I can’t say it enough. Read the article on the art page. Here’s the copy below with some pictures.

Just Whitney
Philadelphia artist Zoe Strauss’ Biennial 2006 submission steals the show.

At the heart of the Whitney Museum’s Biennial 2006 lies a small dark room where bright images flash on the wall in a slide show of photographs by Philadelphia artist Zoe Strauss. The quiet chapel of light and love for humanity amid the raucous sea of negativity that is this year’s Biennial steals the show. Strauss’ humane photographs of crack addicts, the poor, broken buildings and Mummers behaving badly will make you cry or laugh. With bittersweet beauty Strauss lays bare the human comedy. (Be sure to click the artist’s name to go to her website/blog/flickr sites and see more of her images.)

Zoe Strauss’s McDonalds from I-95, taken post-Katrina, when the artist visited Mississippi to help with the clean-up.

Hosting more than 100 contemporary artists, Biennial 2006 is notable for angry art and art that flaunts the rules of marketplace commodification. This is art made out of passion more than the desire to sell itself to the highest bidder. It’s like the anti-art fair: Nonprecious materials abound, and there are more installations than you can shake a paintbrush at. This art doesn’t want to follow you home like a nice puppy dog. But of course even the papier-mache boulders will sell for thousands of dollars because they’ve been Biennialized.

At the press preview Whitney curator Chrissie Iles acknowledged the tetchiness of much of the work, saying the show is very much about the here and now-our time of world upheaval and economic and ecological uncertainty. Laissez-faire capitalism is our world and laissez-faire curating permeates the art world. Iles said she hadn’t seen 50 percent of the art until it walked through the door-it’s new work made by artists invited to participate in the show.

Visually and aurally the show is noisy, and some of the quieter work doesn’t get a fair shake. That’s my only complaint. Here are a few high points:

Francesco Vezzoli’s Caligula with Helen Mirren, here, vamping it up.

>> Francesco Vezzoli‘s faux film trailer for a remake of Gore Vidal’s Caligula is the soft, cheesy center of the show. A star-studded cast (Helen Mirren, Benicio Del Toro, Karen Black, Courtney Love) vamp it up full blast in Donatella Versace-designed togas, and it works splendidly as a tittilating satire of life in post-9/11 America.

Nari Ward’s Glory. In the background is a collage by Mark Bradford, also outstanding.

>> Nari Ward’s “Glory,” a lit-up faux tanning bed/coffin, will imprint you with the pattern of stars and stripes, and is an amazing antiwar/ antipop culture statement.

Urs Fischer’s holes in the Whitney walls

>> Urs Fischer
cut mammoth circular holes in the fourth-floor walls, creating an atmosphere that’s both bombed-out Iraq and fashionable art world.

Liz Larner’s pile of handlebars “RWB’s”

>> Liz Larner‘s monumental pile of bicycle handlebars festooned in red, white and blue evokes the end of childhood innocence, and childhood victims everywhere.

Strauss, in her Whitney chapel of love. (Sorry for the glare and fuzz.) This was taken at the press preview.

>> I’ll end with Zoe Strauss, whose art, in a show full of posturing, has no pretense except to be the best representation of the person and the best telling of the story. And that’s unbelievably refreshing.

Groping its way through pop culture, much of the art in Biennial 2006 claims the high ground by framing the discussion of war, commerce, poverty, politics and bigotry as something more than a two-second soundbite. It’s a show worth your time.

“Whitney Biennial 2006: Day for Night”
Through May 28. Whitney Museum of American Art, 945 Madison Ave., New York. 800.WHITNEY.