Sunday, May 9, 2010

The Whitney, Alone and Together

Cross-posted on Immanent Terrain

Perhaps because I was so completely taken by the Marina Abramovic exhibit at MoMA last week - I'm still thinking about it and still bring it up in conversation with friends back in California - I found it difficult to process all of the information thrown at me at the Whitney Museum's Biennial show last Friday, April 30th. Only almost a week later have I been able to reflect on what I had seen and what struck me and remained imprinted on my memory.

I showed up at the museum equipped with the knowledge of one, maybe two of the artists whose work was on display, completely unfamiliar with the rest of the pieces and the artists in the show and completely unassuming in what to expect. I'd heard a lot of hype, namely that this year's show was the best in ages, but digesting this hype felt similar to times when friends have told me that a film is "amazing" or "hilaaarious!" - I knew that expecting too much could potentially disappoint. I suppose that since this show is supposed to be the show that features the next big stars of the art world I should have done a bit more research - but honestly, wandering the labyrinth of temporary walls and installations with a map and a checklist wouldn't have done me any good at all. Instead, coming in blindly allowed me to stay longer when I wanted to stay and move on quickly when something didn't catch my attention or peak my interest.

Having the collective experience of viewing the Bruce High Quality Foundation's piece I Like America and America Likes Me was a unique moment in the visit, being the first and last time that all seven of us experienced a piece together through interaction and conversation. I don't know that everyone was equally intrigued by this piece, nor am I asserting that everyone will remember it - but from this point on, after viewing the BHQF's Hearse converted into an ambulance with the windshield functioning as a screen for a slightly distorted video piece, each of us will have a unique selective memory of those pieces of art that matter the most to us for one reason or another. For that first shared experience, we all were able to experience something together, although this is not to say that all of our experiences were the same nor that all of our memories of the shared experience will be the same.

Fascinating, though, how each of us will come away from this and write something different about potentially disparate or potentially the same works. After we all parted ways and completely lost track of each other, each of us were able to take as much time as we needed looking at every piece of art that interested us, in a way being allowed to choose the most desired path for our own unique experiences. I had several passing moments with everyone, "dancing" with Susana a few times, sitting silently next to Caldwell during Kerry Tribe's video piece HM (which I fully intend to write more about once I feel that I can effectively compare it to Bergson), but rarely speaking with any of them in the hopes of maintaining our own unique, uninterrupted experiences. I don't necessarily enjoy conversing at a museum anyway both for fear of being rude or disturbing other patrons and the desire to quietly contemplate and live in the moment. This is why I agree with Sam's point that museums and art in general are sometimes best experienced alone - I think that Brian trying to be friendly and speak to a completely engrossed and therefore barely responsive version of myself while I was watching Abramovic's Rest Energy at MoMA is a testament to the point that art is sometimes best experienced in solitude - but, this is not to discourage the potential for an enlightened, collaborative conversation afterward.

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