Going to the Whitney Biennial and the Brucennial: A Tale of Two Lines

March 8, 2014 |

By Kati Gegenheimer

I was really excited to see the Whitney Biennial this past week. I got lucky enough to go on one of the opening nights via my beyond intelligent, handsome and talented boyfriend Mark Thomas Gibson (thanks honey)! We had been advised by sources in the know that the line the night before had been rather brutal, and therefore perhaps we might have more luck arriving fashionably late? It was not so. While I don’t intend to write an entire article about waiting in line, I think it is, conceptually, a thread that wove the Whitney Biennial and the Brucennial together in my mind.

The line was long and winding. It would’ve been better for us to claim our spot not by following the line around the museum from front to back, but to circle around the block away from the line…because the end was just that far around. The Whitney staffers were graciously offering coupons for complimentary hot coffee/tea/hot chocolate to be obtained on the final turn, which was necessary and a morale booster.

Typically, I have not been a fan of the Whitney Biennials. In practice, I love the idea of a cross-section of American artists being shown- the freshness and appeal of widening an audience in a museum setting, and building a conversation between artists to mark time and a cultural moment is a great opportunity. However, it always falls flat- and maybe it is because this venture is just too impossible!? But we are artists- impossibility is not…possible! So we try again. Curators believe, we believe, and on it goes.

The Whitney promised me so many of my favorite artists! Laura Owens! Dona Nelson! Rebecca Morris! Charline Von Heyl! Louise Fishman! Sterling Ruby! It felt so right! Yet, I probably set my expectations too high, because the ambition of the curators to include so many important artists overrode the art- the space was cramped-not just with people on an opening night- but the art felt so tight that it felt impossible to grasp the depth of the work. It felt difficult to get a sense for the artists because of the way the show was installed. Each piece, individually- was good- a painting did not disappoint. But as someone who spends nearly all of her time looking when she’s not writing- it was hard for me to even look.

This general sentiment of disappointment, slapping myself on the wrist of my unrealistic over-enthusiasm, was only coupled with the distain of openings. At least museum openings. Schmoozing…everyone being in the way! It might have been the cold, but I felt an overwhelming wave of sadness. Is anyone even looking? How many of us care? How many of us are REALLY looking, and in turn, REALLY LOVING? I love art- sometimes talking about or listening to people talk about art brings me to tears- tears of LOVE. I stay up at night thinking about art in bed. This questioning feeling, a general jaded feeling stuck with me in response to the Whitney.

600Brucennial

Later in the week, the Brucennial opened in the meatpacking district. Talk about trendy. Full disclosure: I have a small painting in the Brucennial. Full disclosure: I am so happy to have a small painting in the Brucennial. Why? Because even though I arrived at the Brucennial and was immediately in another winter night’s line, I felt excited. I said to my companions- “This feels like Christmas Eve!” I felt like I was eagerly awaiting being surprised and delighted at what treasures might await me.

Artists exhibiting ran the gamut from internationally known to unknown. For an open call show, (I received the information forwarded from a friend), the space wasn’t a nightmare, but rather a celebration. It was all-inclusive; it felt like now- it didn’t pretend to be curated. The elephant in the room, a very silent elephant, was that the show was composed of all women.   This was not to be advertised which made me feel proud. Let’s backtrack. I’m proud to be a woman- I’m by no means hiding it- trust me. Yet, I appreciate the fact that the show wasn’t dumbed down by it. It wasn’t pigeonholed as an all women’s show- it was a huge collective effort of New York artists. And it worked.

Thanks Brucennial, for restoring my faith that people care, that people love looking at and making art. And in a silent moment at the Whitney- I’ll bring it back there on my own.

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