Will this be the year that the Whitney Biennial makes critics happy? The United States’ most important contribution to today’s international circuit of biennials and triennials (and one of the oldest by far) is usually guaranteed to provoke debate about which artists were and weren’t invited to participate. The focus in 2006 was international while previous editions of the show stressed artists from regions outside New York, but this year’s show appears likely to please the New York/LA axis. Chockablock with artists familiar to gallery crowds in both cities, the list of 81 participating artists and collectives includes conceptual art pioneers Louise Lawler and John Baldessari, and representatives from the subsequent generations they influenced, including Fia Backstrom and Carol Bove. Amongst the other strains of contemporary art showcased by the Biennial will be a focus on cross-discipline work, including a series of performances staged March 3 – 23 at the Seventh Regiment Armory on Park Ave at 67th Street. Save the dates!
Dan Perjovschi, installation view, courtesy Lombard-Freid Projects
Even if Dan Perjovschi’s doodle-like, politically charged wall drawings seemed a little out of place in MoMA’s pristine atrium last year, the incongruity created a certain frisson. His first New York solo show is just as arresting, despite being relegated to a much smaller space. Using white chalk on gray walls, the artist turns the gallery into a giant blackboard on which he has scrawled lively if uneven critiques on issues ranging from the environment to Iraq.
Perjovschi’s nervous line, and his tendency to overlap bold and faint images by erasing as he goes along, give his work an energetic, experimental feel. On the downside, drawings of a naked derriere surrounded by puckered lips and of a puppeteer making anonymous figures dance, amount to little more than generic symbols. Perjovschi’s spontaneous approach often misfires, as in his unnuanced drawing of a giant trash can scrawled with .
Most of the time, however, Perjovschi’s economy of means yields more trenchant results. A sun labeled rich on one side and poor on the other emanates more rays on the “poor” side—a concise commentary on the inequity of global warming’s impact. The clarity, punch and provocation of such pieces suggests that they’d be just as at home outside as in a gallery—which would be just as well, given Chelsea’s recent profusion of mindless street art.
Video art may be notorious for not selling as well as other media, but several Chelsea galleries are having a moment with the medium this month. Miami-based Luis Gispert delivers the weirdest show in a dual appearance at Zach Feuer Gallery and Mary Boone Gallery with an enormous projection featuring the gruesome exploits of a libidinous butcher. At the opposite extreme, Israeli artist Guy Ben-Ner’s videos at Postmasters Gallery starring the artist and his two super-cute children thankfully manage to be more amusing than saccharine. Those looking for intellectual challenge can check out ‘the royal game’ embodied by Diana Thater’s chess matches at David Zwirner, or for ‘the beautiful game,’ visit Greene Naftali Gallery and see German filmmaker Harun Farocki’s twelve screen compilation of footage and analysis of the 2006 World Cup. And no video tour through Chelsea would be complete without stopping at Iran-born video art legend Shirin Neshat’s latest videos and photos at Barbara Gladstone Gallery.
“If Ms Walker retired today she would leave behind one of the most trenchant and historically erudite bodies of art produced by any American in the last 15 years, only a portion of which is in the Whitney show,” wrote New York Times critic Holland Cotter of Kara Walker’s powerful survey show at the Whitney Museum. Pilloried by some prominent African American artists in the late 90s for trafficking in negative black imagery, Walker’s signature installations of black-paper silhouettes on white walls, drawings, projections and texts mine America’s past and present race relations in all their ugly complexity. For viewers unafraid to confront controversial issues head on, this is the show not to miss. (On through Feb 3rd).
Diana Thater, 'Horus', Courtesy David Zwirner Gallery
Diana Thater has spent the last year learning all she can about chess and falconry, but don’t expect her latest video installations to provide much edification on either topic. Thater doesn’t seem interested in educating her audience about these ancient pastimes, leaving the viewer frustrated as well as tantalized.
Unlike the participants in a dog show, raptors don’t take too kindly to competition, so the set-up of the exhibition’s most engaging video, Horus, is immediately puzzling. As Thater’s camera swoops overhead on a crane, falconers of different ages and sexes sit with their birds in an atmospheric ampitheatre as if waiting to go on. Nobody goes anywhere, however, which only makes you wonder what all the medieval-looking hoods, straps and other equipment used to calm the birds say about the piece’s apparent subject – the relationship between falcon and handler.
Likewise, Thater promises stories without really telling any in a series of individually titled video reenactments of legendary chess matches. In Gary Kasparov vs Deep Junior, for example, we see the legendary Russian grand master pitted against a computer, a contest which certainly offers fertile symbolic possibilities. But absent the gallery’s explanatory handout, it looks just like the other videos in this group, all of which show similar scenes of hands moving pieces on a board. Even so, Thater’s work, beautiful as it is, inspires at least an appreciation for her subjects (her players move their fingers with the poise of dancers). It may entice you to find out more.