Day for Night, Whitney Biennial 2006

Out and in front of the museum is "Peace Tower", 2006, in which Mark di Suvero and Rirkrit Tiravanija collaborate with about 300 other artists invited to recreate the "Artists' Tower for Peace" which was first erected in Los Angeles in 1966 to protest the Vietnam war. The tower is well intended but seems impotent in the face of a saccharine or silent chattering journalist class and a populace which seems to acquiesce to the desires of business and an administration which does as it pleases. "Peace Tower" however, does hint at a theme in this year's Biennial; one of artists working together to explore at times powerful ideas and other times what seems more like an adolescent temper tantrum.

The essays in the accompanying catalogue attempt to cover every base, and so does the collection and installation of much of the art included in this years biennial. My initial reaction was to question the choices and positions of the curators, which seem to take every side of an argument and then none at all.

Perhaps the most compelling part of the Biennial is on the fifth floor in an exhibition within an exhibition, titled "Down By Law". Curated by the Wrong Gallery this collection of works by fifty-four artists explores the "dark heroes of the American dream… a picture emerges of "American culture hypnotized by the adventures of lonesome warriors and legendary outlaws."[1] Works range across generations and include Paul Cadmus's watercolor "To The Lynching" (1935), Tim Rollins & K.O.S. "By Any Means Necessary: Nightmare" (1986), Andres Serrano's infamous "Piss Christ" (1987) depicting a crucifix submerged in the artists urine and perhaps for this viewer, two of the more compelling works in "Down By Law" are David Wojnarowicz's photostat titled "One Day, This Kid" (1980) and Felix Gonzalez-Torres' "Untitled, Death by Gun", both of which use visual art and text to draw the viewer into the work and convey an unnerving and memorable sense of empathy. The gallery is hung salon style and provides a clarion call to American culture which echoes artist Sam Durant's astutely titled work "We Are All Outlaws in the Eyes of America" (2004).

Unfortunately the remainder of the exhibition falters all over the spectrum of our globalized culture, and appears to grasp at straws looking for some lynch pin to conceptually tie the exhibition together.

Curators for the first time titled the Biennial. And "Day For Night" as described by the catalogue attempts to examine the "schizophrenic situation...(of) two realities that discomfortingly coexist: one of anxiety, exasperation, and despair: and another of exuberance, energy, and wishful thinking."[2] to an often times erratically written catalogue, the exhibition offers some highs and lows in a collection and reflection of our culture now. In the end the Curators, Chrissie Iles and Philippe Vergne, did the impossible job of collecting contemporary American artists under one roof with the laudable goals of attempting "to capture the artifice of American culture, in all its complexity."[3] Unfortunately the result feels like a hodge-podge of politics, aesthetics, and a naval gazing art world. Outside of a few exceptions the "concept" for the exhibition felt like cop out on the part of the curators, to take a stand and examine an idea OR to truly take a survey of the landscape of an American art. In the end one idea does stand out more than most but could have been more strongly emphasized. This sense of artists "working," as curator Philippe Vergne has described, "in a space between day and night, between the history of forms and the forms of history. . .[where] many things are called into question or obscured." And yet even this idea was spread a little thinly. Certainly the idea was conveyed by the inclusion of Critical Art Ensemble and The Bureau of Inverse Technology and compelling collectives of artists and ideas which examine the positive explorations of groups. Yet, there are many more artists, collectives and endeavors that could have represented this idea of working, and social collaboration more deeply. Artists such as Christine Hill, whose whacky performance and commentary on material culture could have added some well needed comic relief to the mix. Collectives such as the Gorilla Girls, Reverend Billy and the Stop Shopping Choir, Critical Mass, or the Madagascar Institute who create and celebrate on the fringe of the art world with collectively created sculpture-toys, massive art parties, and events that celebrate "blind enthusiasm in the face of impending disaster."

In the end I can best sum up the 2006 Biennial with one experience in the museum. While I was standing in the museum among the crowds of people one Saturday morning, two women approached me and sheepishly asked. "Do you like this exhibition?" I thought it was an appropriate question given all the hype that the museum and art world gives to this Biennial. My answer was and is some of it I couldn't have cared less for, but some of it I like very much. The works which really engaged me are by artists such as Ryan Trecartin's whose video "A Family Finds Entertainment" left me laughing out loud in the gallery, and Jamal Cyrus' defiant and socially subversive drawings and sculptures, especially "The End Of My Beginning", Angela Strassheim's photograph of a father grooming his son from her series "Left Behind" and god forbid there might be a brushstroke in a Biennial, I also enjoyed paintings by Chris Vasell and Rudolph Stingel. The two women said they liked the Marilyn Minter paintings which are gorgeous, but didn't know what to make of much of the rest of it. I knew just how they felt, so I suggested that they play a game by going through the exhibition and rating each work on a scale from one to ten. One if you hate it and ten if you love it. They seemed to think that was a good idea and began just then to rate a series of Robert Gober photographs.

I'd give this Biennial a three…

By Andrew Cornell Robinson
Written for the Gay City News

Exhibition Information

Whitney Biennial 2006 Day for Night
March 2 - May 28, 2006
Whitney Museum of American Art
945 Madison Avenue at 75th Street
New York, NY 10021
General Information: 1 (800) WHITNEY

1. "Down By Law" exhibition wall text.
2. "Whitney Biennial 2006 Day for Night", exhibition catalogue, p. 16, Forward essay by Adam D. Weinberg, Alice Pratt Brown Director.
3. "Whitney Biennial 2006 Day for Night", exhibition catalogue, p. 19, Preface and Acknowledgements by Chrissie Iles and Philippe Vergne.

Angela Strassheim's Untitled (Father & Son), 2004
Angela Strassheim
Untitled (Father & Son) from Left Behind Series, 2004.
Digital chromogenic color print; 30 x 40 in.
Collection of the artist; courtesy Marvelli Gallery, New York.

Mark di Suvero and Rirkrit Tiravanija's Peace Tower, 2006

Mark di Suvero and Rirkrit Tiravanija's Peace Tower, 2006
Stainless steel and mixed media panels
Courtesy the artists, Paula Cooper Gallery, New York, and Gavin Brown's enterprise, New York
On view in the Whitney Biennial 2006: Day for Night, Whitney Museum of American Art, March 2- May 28, 2006.
Photograph by Sheldan C. Collins.

Richard Serra's Stop Bush, 2004
Richard Serra
Stop Bush, 2004.
Lythocrayon on mylar, 59 1/4 x 48 in.
Collection of the artist
2006 Richard Serra/ Artists Rights Society (ARS)