Whitney Museum of American Art
2006 Biennial Exhibition
Excerpt from Whitney Museum of American Art, New York:
- Additional Information -
Whitney Biennial 2006: Day for Night
March 2 - May 28, 2006
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York
Whitney Biennial 2006: Day for Night is curated by Chrissie Iles, the Whitney’s Anne & Joel Ehrenkranz Curator, and Philippe Vergne, the Deputy Director and Chief Curator of the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis.
Whitney Biennial 2006: Day for Night takes its title from the 1973 film by François Truffaut, whose original French name, La Nuit américaine, denotes the cinematic technique of shooting night scenes artificially during the day, using a special filter. This is the first Whitney Biennial to have a title attached to it.
“Through the curatorial lens of the Biennial,” said curator Chrissie Iles, Day for Night explores the artifice of American culture in what could be described as a pre-Enlightenment moment, in which culture is preoccupied with the irrational, the religious, the dark, the erotic, and the violent, filtered through a sense of flawed beauty. This reflective, restless mood is not unique to the United States its presence across both America and Europe suggests a shift in the accepted values that have formed the basis of 20th-century Western culture.”
“This moment of questioning characterizes the broad context for the current moment in contemporary American art,” said curator Philippe Vergne. “The artists in the 2006 Biennial are working in a space between pre- and post-modernist parameters – somewhere between day and night, between the history of forms and the forms of history. In this twilight zone, many things are called into question or obscured.”
Some of the many intertwining and overlapping strands of the Biennial are discussed below.
Uncertain Identities and Unfixed Images
Sometimes this questioning or obfuscation manifests itself as an uncertain identity – two artists are fictional personae, one artwork is unnamed and almost invisible. In other cases a slippage occurs in definition – paintings can be part of a larger installation environment, as in the work of Jutta Koether in Bernadette Corporation, a film can also be a performance, or an ongoing street activity a journey can also be an exhibition, as Robert Gober and Pierre Huyghe seem to suggest.
In other cases, the instability of meaning can occur in the reading of the image itself, as in Troy Brauntuch’s haunting black-and-white canvases, after-images in which delicate specters seem to slip between light and shadow, as though seen through a mist, or in Mark Grotjahn’s white paintings, in which layers of creamy white paint cover an invisible image.
In Carter’s ghostly collages, photographs of faces are drawn over with pen or disguised by layers of cut-out paper, through which identity is glimpsed, but never fixed. Momus will move anonymously through the galleries, at various times throughout the exhibition, in the form of an “Unreliable Tour Guide,” discussing the work on display. In Hanna Liden’s photographs, masked figures in snowy forests render the landscape unreal and suggest an unknowable place of otherworldly, perhaps pagan ritual.
In Rodney Graham’s 35mm film installation Torqued Chandelier Release (2005), a large crystal chandelier spins around in the darkness, its glass ornaments flying, until it eventually comes to rest. Based on Isaac Newton’s experiment with relative motion, in which Newton spun a bucket of water round and round, Graham’s “thought experiment” de-stabilizes our sense of space and time, overlaying scientific reference with a hypnotic beauty.
A sense of existential languor can be felt in two large black and white paintings by Rudolf Stingel, made for the exhibition. Stingel’s pensive self portraits, depicting the artist in a creative crisis, demonstrate the way in which a classical model of painting is used to address profound doubts about the validity of the notion of historical progress. Such doubt is also underlined in Sturtevant’s installation, Duchamp 1200 Coal Bags, in which the artist fabricates a dozen of Duchamp’s ready-mades.
In an installation by Christopher Williams, conventional readings of mediums become modified by their relationship to each other within a single space. Photographs are shown with objects, which are in turn connected to a film program, curated by Williams, of films that have influenced his thinking. Williams’ work in photography, sculpture, performance, film, video and graphic design, is highly conceptual, and each element of his installation for the Biennial, which will include architectural fragments of the Whitney Museum, connects and transforms the other.
Since 1994, the international group known as Bernadette Corporation has explored strategies of cultural resistance. From the New York-based BC fashion label, which garnered a cult following in the 1990s, and the magazine Made In USA, launched in 1999, to the collectively-authored novel Reena Spaulings (Semiotext(e), 2005) and videos starring Sylvère Lotringer and Chloe Sevigny, Bernadette Corporations projects amount to a precisely-calibrated critique of a global culture that constructs identity through consumption and branding.
Another group, Otabenga Jones & Associates, whose work involves actions, writings, and installations, was founded in 2002 in Houston, Texas. The group’s members are Dawolu Jabari Anderson, Jamal Cyrus, Kenya Evans, and Robert A. Pruitt, four African American artists, each of whom will be shown separately, as well as in the group they form together as Otabenga Jones & Associates. With its goal to highlight errors in the representation of African art, the group is named in honor of Ota Benga, an African pygmy brought to the United States in 1906 and exhibited in the Bronx Zoo.
Reena Spaulings is a fictional artist founded in 2004 in New York under the auspices of the gallery Reena Spaulings Fine Art. The work—which includes painting, sculpture, performance, and music—is made by a shifting group of collaborators. By assuming a composite, fictional identity and entering an art world overwhelmingly under the sway of the market, both financially and creatively, in reverse—forming a gallery, then becoming an artist—Spaulings confronts the problem of maintaining integrity in such an environment and questions the art-star system that operates in conjunction with the market.
Shock and Awe
If Stingel’s dark night of doubt looks inward, a sense of dissatisfaction with the political status quo is articulated more outwardly in Don’t Trust Anyone Over Thirty, a large installation by Dan Graham, Tony Oursler, Rodney Graham, Laurent Berger, and the young Williamsburg band Japanther. This spectacular puppet show is presented here for the first time in its installation version, in which the 24-year-old rock singer Neill Sky is elected President of the United States after instigating teenage riots to change the voting age to 14 and putting LSD (ultimately standing for Let’s Stop Destruction) in the water of Congress.
Political art – or art made by artists who are consciously making political statements – forms one strand of the exhibition. Outside, in the Whitney’s Sculpture Court, Mark di Suvero and Rirkrit Tiravanija are recreating di Suvero’s Peace Tower, first constructed in Los Angeles in 1966 as a protest against the Vietnam War. The Peace Tower, also known as the Artists’ Tower against the War in Vietnam, was erected by a group of concerned artists known as the Artists’ Protest Committee. Di Suvero’s structure was surrounded by panels (2’ x 2’) made by 400 artists including Judy Chicago, Eva Hesse, Donald Judd, Roy Lichtenstein, James Rosenquist, Mark Rothko, and Nancy Spero. In di Suvero and Tiravanija’s creation of another Peace Tower for the 2006 Whitney Biennial, as many of the original group of participating artists as can be found are being invited to take part.
An “Emergency Room” serves as an exhibition space for a number of politically-engaged artworks by Critical Art Ensemble, The Center for Land Use Interpretation (CLUI), Deep Dish Television, and Natalie Jeremijenko. The space will include a videotape by Critical Art Ensemble, an artists’ collective dedicated to exploring the intersections between art, technology, radical politics and critical theory. Also showing is work by Deep Dish Television (DDTV), the original alternative satellite network in America, co-founded by filmmaker and activist DeeDee Halleck. DDTV’s program collection Shocking and Awful (2004–2005) examines the latest violent and highly controversial actions in Iraq. With segments produced by over 100 independent filmmakers and activist organizations, the impassioned, on-the-ground viewpoint of these broadcasts shows the flipside of the Bush Administration’s “Shock and Awe” military tactics.
The exhibition will also include the original drawing by Richard Serra for his poster “Stop Bush,” which became a signature image around New York City when it was reproduced as a placard, poster, and billboard during protests against the Iraq War. Josephine Meckseper’s double-vitrine installation – one part is titled The Complete History of Postcontemporary Art and the other Tout va – addresses both American consumerism and political protest, and is shown alongside a film shot during the anti-war demonstrations in New York and Washington, using the same 16mm film stock as that used in anti-war films made during the 1960s, evoking an unsettling feeling not of nostalgia, but of déjà vu, or perhaps a premonition of things to come.
The dynamic between eros and thanatos becomes particularly intense in moments of conflict and uncertainty. “A desperate sense of lavish abandon,” as Vergne puts it, is visible in some of the works in the show. In Billy Sullivan’s 1968-2005 (2005), a three-part slide work to be shown here for the first time, a beautiful young woman named Serpa, clad only in a gold skirt tied loosely around her waist, poses in one section for Sullivan’s camera, on a bed in a luxurious New York hotel room. The eroticism of Sullivan’s images, taken one morning in the 1970s, is created in the easy intimacy between camera and subject. Dorothy Iannone, an expatriate artist based in Berlin, now in her 70s, has created voluptuous, erotic paintings using a libertarian, almost psychedelic language, since the 1960s.
In the paintings of Marilyn Minter, glittery, heavily made-up eyes, cracked heels in dirty stiletto pumps, and glistening open lips spilling pearls and fake diamonds expose the messy reality beneath the veneer of eroticized glamour. Monica Majoli’s disturbing watercolors deal with the psychological aspects of erotic experience, their soft, diffused tones suggesting a kind of disembodied consciousness.
By contrast, Francesco Vezzoli’s Trailer for a Remake of Gore Vidal’s Caligula, which premiered this past summer at the Venice Biennale, creates a false trailer for a re-make of the notorious film depicting the decadent government of Roman Emperor Gaius Germanicus Caligula, who gave his horse political office and hosted scandalous orgies in the Imperial palace. Vezzoli’s film, an implicit critique of the decadence of Hollywood cinema and of the innate corruption of government, includes Helen Mirren, who also starred in the original film, as well as Gore Vidal, Courtney Love, Karen Black, Benicio Del Toro, and Michelle Phillips.
The paintings of Peter Doig, JP Munro and Chris Vasell express a more mystical, almost Symbolist mood. Peter Doig’s paintings evoke a sense of magical realism, while Vasell’s large faces loom out of the canvas through layers of thinly applied paint, as though emerging from a dream. Munro’s depictions of art historical subjects are Romantic, decadent, mythological and sometimes macabre. Adam McEwen’s Obituaries present celebrities’ fictional deaths, written up by McEwen, who was once a newspaper obituary writer, and printed on the pink paper identified with The Financial Times, playing on our macabre interest in death and fame.
An Archeology of the Present
Whitney Biennial 2006: Day for Night features several important works of sculpture that reconsider, tongue in cheek and with a twist, the validity or the permanence of notions such as monumentality, formalism, narrative (Urs Fischer, Dan Colen, Gedi Sibony, Deva Graf, Trisha Donnelly, Matthew Monahan, Liz Larner, Hannah Greely, Lisa Lapinski, Aaron Young, Nari Ward, Jésus “Bubu” Negrón) while others explore through installation the subversive potential of art (Robert A. Pruitt, Reena Spaulings, Yuri Masnyj, Jennifer Allora and Guillermo Calzadilla, Carolina Caycedo, Jennie Smith) or attempt to reclaim an American history that may have been confiscated (Matthew Day Jackson, Otabenga Jones & Associates). Lucas DeGiulio, a young, emerging artist from San Francisco, will show a group of small sculptures using found materials, some made for the exhibition.
The fugitive nature of the camera as an eye through which to create a reality
that undermines the current commercial photographic environment can be seen in a diverse group of photographs by Amy Blakemore, Anne Collier, Robert Gober, Hanna Liden, Florian Maier-Aichen, Dash Snow, and Angela Strassheim. Amy Blakemore’s elusive portraits are made using the Diana camera, a cheap plastic camera made in the 1960s, whose crude casing leaks light and causes blurring, heightening the oblique intimacy of Blakemore’s subjects. The disturbing images of Angela Strassheim address death, evangelical Christianity, and the notion of codified, standardized, safe living, among other subjects, with an unforgiving eye that belies her training in forensic photography. By contrast, Dash Snow uses the Polaroid camera to record his friends and his surroundings in intensely personal images that teeter on the edge of self-destruction.
Struggling with notions of mainstream, if not populist culture, a number of artists are unveiling an archeology of the present in which irony and critical distance convey a disgruntled relationship with the tired models dominating our media-driven environment. This can be seen in the work of such artists as Kori Newkirk, Mark Bradford, Spencer Sweeney, Kelley Walker, Tony Conrad, Cameron Jamie, Kenya Evans, Daniel Johnston, Jay Heikes, Dan Colen, Todd Norsten, and Dawolu Jabari Anderson.
Anne Collier’s spare images of iconic objects – LP covers, audiocassette tapes – and of herself, positioned against a stark white background, evoke the spare light of Los Angeles and call to mind the 1960s Finish Fetish movement, as well as the reductive images of Richard Prince. Florian Maier-Aichen’s haunting photographs of Los Angeles and the American desert bathe their subjects in an almost supernatural, apocalyptic light. The artist – as vividly seen in the work of the late Ed Paschke – remains irradiated by a culture of excess and overexposure in which politics, entertainment, and fictional truth leave us branded simulacra of ourselves.
Film legend Kenneth Anger is featured with a gallery installation that includes his most recent film, Mouse Heaven a psychedelic poster for his earlier film Lucifer Rising and a selection of photographs from his film Invocation of My Demon Brother, among other objects. Embodying the purest spirit of “underground” and subversion, Anger continues to exert an important influence on artists including several in the Biennial, such as Jutta Koether, Steven Parrino, and Anne Collier, among others.
The exhibition includes a strong group of film loop, slide and video installations. As well as new works by Francesco Vezzoli and Billy Sullivan, Anthony Burdin will appear with a new video installation incorporating an intense soundtrack of Burdin playing drums and guitar. The sound artist and composer Jim O’Rourke premieres his first video installation, Door (2005), a three-screen projection in which layers of sound build to form an environment of sound. Matthias Poledna’s sparely shot 16mm film installations are preoccupied with the relationship between sound, image, and the production process. Paul Chan’s projective installation, casting onto the floor shadows of objects falling through space, conjures the dark mood of the current political and social climate.
In Jordan Wolfson’s spare film loop installation, a small projection onto a wall shows a tuxedo-clad man signing Charlie Chaplin’s controversial speech from The Great Dictator, the overtly political message of which resulted in Chaplin’s being denied reentry into the United States. The speech, 700 words long, forms the title of the piece.
The exhibition also includes Kranky Klaus, a film installation by Cameron Jamie, in which villages in Central Austria await a visit from St. Nicholas’ nemesis, the mythical beast Krampus. Zoe Strauss creates searing, humanist portraits in a slide projection of her local community of South Philadelphia and in images of her recent trip to the devastated Gulf Coast.
Film and video works by both emerging and established filmmakers will be screened, as well as interventions by artists included elsewhere in the exhibition. James Benning will show 13 Lakes, a rigorous, contemplative study of lakes from Arizona to Alaska, in which the static camera records the subtle changes in the lake and the sky over an extended period. Lewis Klahr’s feature animation narrative in three parts, Two Minutes to Zero Trilogy (2003-4), will be screened in its entirety. Martha Colburn’s found footage animations, Marie Losier’s portrait of legendary playwright and Ontological–Hysterical Theater founder Richard Foreman, Louise Bourque’s The Bleeding Heart of It (L’Eclat du Mal), in which the artist dreams that a war is going on, and new videos by Joe Gibbons are also included.
Michael Snow’s films S S H T O O R R T Y and W V L N T will be shown, as well as films by Christina Battle, David Gatten, Doug Henry, Jeanne Liotta, and Ryan Trecartin, and two film performances by Andrew Lampert. T. Kelly Mason and Diana Thater’s Jump depicts twenty synchronized jump-ropers in a gym, accompanied by a rock band playing stylistically varying versions of Bob Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues.” Jimmie Durham’s film, Pursuit of Happiness, depicts the rise of a fictitious Native American artist, played by Anri Sala, who makes it to the top after a successful show of art made from garbage.
George Butler’s documentary Going Upriver: The Long War of John Kerry, a portrait of Kerry’s service in Vietnam and his subsequent protests against the war, released at the height of the 2004 presidential campaign by Butler, who has known Kerry since the 1960s, shows the trajectory of Kerry’s engagement from idealism to disillusionment. Dominic Angerame’s Anaconda Targets documents a bombing by the American military of a target in Afghanistan, while Jennifer Reeves’ The Time We Killed portrays the anxiety and uncertainty felt by a fictional character, Robyn, as she moves through a post-September 11th New York City. Lori Cheatle and Daisy Wright’s This Land is Your Land, which some have compared to the hard-hitting work of Michael Moore, documents the state of democracy in America, addressing the overwhelming corporate influence on everyday life in the U.S. through the voices of people interviewed across the country.
Bernadette Corporation will show a new film, and Studio Film Club, formed in Peter Doig’s studio in Trinidad by Doig and Che Lovelace, will screen some of the Biennial films at the Studio Film Club, while a selection of the Studio Film Club’s program will be screened at the Whitney, including the film Day for Night that gave the exhibition its name. Christopher Williams will curate a program of films that have influenced his work, including work by Kurt Kren and Carl Dreyer and, in homage to Kenneth Anger, a selection of Anger’s films will be screened.
Warhol film legend Taylor Mead, who will appear reading his poems, is also represented with a series of drawings depicting a naughty fairy tale, while Excavating Taylor Mead, documenting Mead’s life, will be screened as part of the film program. The poet, photographer, and filmmaker Ira Cohen will also read his poems, along with a special screening of his psychedelic film The Invasion of the Thunderbolt Pagoda.
Pierre Huyghe: A Biennial Collaboration with the Public Art Fund
For the 2006 Biennial, the Whitney is partnering for the fourth time with the Public Art Fund. This year’s collaboration takes the form of a film by Pierre Huyghe, A Journey That Wasn’t, based on the artist’s recent journey to Antarctica. A Journey That Wasn’t takes place in three moments in time: the artist’s actual journey to the Antarctic in February 2005 the orchestral musical presentation based on that journey, with music by Joshua Cody and a solo performance by Elliott Sharp, which was filmed at dusk in the rain in Central Park’s Wollman Rink on October 14, 2005 and the film made using footage shot on those two occasions. The project is curated by Tom Eccles, former director of Public Art Fund, in collaboration with Biennial curators Chrissie Iles and Philippe Vergne, and is presented by Deutsche Bank. Huyghe’s complex and multidisciplinary projects include This is not a time for dreaming (2004), a film and marionette opera.
The Wrong Gallery
In the Sondra Gilman Gallery, outside the main body of the exhibition, is a show within a show, curated by the Wrong Gallery. Founded by artist Maurizio Cattelan, curator and art critic Massimiliano Gioni, and writer and curator Ali Subotnick, the Wrong Gallery stages interventions. It initially consisted only of a glass door on a street in Chelsea, always locked, with one square foot of exhibition space behind it. The gallery serves as an incubator for artistic experimentation, inviting artists to create site-specific works within its space, and promoting clandestine interventions in the world outside. Although its exhibition spaces in New York are currently closed, the Wrong Gallery continues to expand, living on as a brand, an identity, a franchise, a concept, in projects such as Gagosian Berlin and at the Frieze art fair, manifesting itself, like a virus, within other organizations.
The 2006 Whitney Biennial catalogue, with 800 pages and more than 200 images, will use an innovative book format in order to present a remarkable artists’ section, "Draw Me a Sheep." Borrowing its title from Antoine de Saint-Exupérys The Little Prince, the section will be a collection of individual artist pages done as a series of four-panel “poster” foldouts. By inviting each artist to create a page for the book, "Draw Me a Sheep" presents an image from the artists world and explores how each artist deals with representation in his or her own time.
In addition to the artists’ section, the catalogue will contain a general introduction and a conversation between the curators, Chrissie Iles and Philippe Vergne and the art historian Toni Burlap a foreword by Whitney director Adam D. Weinberg and contributions by critic and teacher Johanna Burton Bradley Eros, an artist, experimental filmmaker, curator, writer, performer, and researcher, whose work was shown in the 2004 Whitney Biennial Lia Gangitano, founder and director of Participant Inc. and former curator of The Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston and Thread Waxing Space, New York Bruce Hainley, a contributing editor of Artforum and Associate Director of Graduate Studies in Criticism & Theory at Art Center College of Design Molly Nesbit, a professor of Art at Vassar College and a contributing editor of Artforum cultural historian and media scholar Siva Vaidhyanathan and writer and cultural commentator Neville Wakefield. In addition the book will include excerpts from a series of articles by the writer and noted French philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy (the complete series will be published by Random House in January 2006).
The book is designed by Conny Purtill, published by the Whitney Museum of American Art, and distributed by Harry N. Abrams, Inc. The retail price is $50 and the publication date is March 2006.
The Bucksbaum Award
For the fourth time, the Bucksbaum Award will be given. At the last Biennial, it was conferred on Raymond Pettibon, whose exhibition of recent work is currently on view at the Whitney. In 2002, the recipient was Irit Batsry for her film These Are Not My Images (neither there nor here). In 2000, Paul Pfeiffer was the first recipient. Endowed by trustee Melva Bucksbaum and her family, The Bucksbaum Award is given by the Whitney every two years to an artist chosen from among those in the Biennial. It includes a grant of $100,000, and an exhibition at the Whitney.
This year’s Biennial is the 73rd in the Whitney’s ongoing surveys of contemporary American art, begun in 1932, shortly after the museum was founded. Varying the approach a number of times throughout its history, the Whitney began by mounting bi-annual exhibitions of painting or sculpture (the latter including prints and drawings) between 1932 and 1936. Starting in 1937, two Annuals were held each year, one devoted to painting and the other to sculpture. This structure remained in effect (with slight modifications) until 1956, when a single Annual was held encompassing all media. Between 1959 and 1972, Annuals once again alternated between sculpture (sometimes together with prints and drawings) and painting. Motivated by the shifting character of American art, increasingly violated margins between traditional media, and the blurring of conventional distinctions, the present all-media Biennial system was initiated by the Whitney in 1973.
About the Curators
Chrissie Iles, the Whitney’s Anne & Joel Ehrenkranz Curator of Contemporary Art, came to the Whitney in 1997. Her Whitney exhibitions include James Lee Byars: The Perfect Silence, the 2004 Biennial (co-curated with Shamim M. Momin and Debra Singer), and Into the Light: The Projected Image in American Art 1964-1977, a survey of moving image installations that was named best theme show of 2001 by the International Association of Art Critics. Other exhibitions include Jack Goldstein: Films and Performance Flashing into the Shadows: The Artist’s Film after Pop and Minimalism 1966-1976 (co-curated with Eric de Bruyn) Blind Side, a film installation by Liisa Roberts Lothar Baumgarten: The Origin of the Night Lorna Simpson: 31 Dennis Oppenheim: Aspen Projects Mary Kelly: Antepartum California Dreaming and War! Protest in America 1965-2004. Iles has written numerous catalog texts, and is writing a book on art and film for the Phaidon series Themes and Movements. She is an Adjunct Professor at Columbia University, and is on the faculty of the Center for Curatorial Studies at Bard College and External Examiner for the Curatorial Course at Goldsmiths College, London. She is working on a Michael Heizer exhibition.
Philippe Vergne, recently named Deputy Director and Chief Curator at the Walker Art Center (WAC), joined the Walker Art Center staff in 1997. As Senior Curator and head of the Visual Arts department at the Walker from 1997 to 2005, Vergne organized the exhibitions How Latitudes Become Forms: Art in a Global Age, Let’s Entertain, Herzog & de Meuron: In Process, and House of Oracles: A Huang Yong Ping Retrospective coordinated artist residencies with Joep van Lieshout, Christian Marclay, and Nari Ward and oversaw, with Richard Flood, the collection exhibitions inaugurating the Walker’s expanded facility. In addition to authoring numerous exhibition catalogs and contributing to others, Vergne has written for Artforum, Parkett, Asia Pacific Magazine, and other periodicals. He is currently working on a Cameron Jamie survey, a Kara Walker survey, and an Yves Klein retrospective.
About The Whitney Museum
The Whitney Museum of American Art is the leading advocate of 20th- and 21st-century American art. Founded in 1930, the Museum is regarded as the preeminent collection of American art and includes major works and materials from the estate of Edward Hopper, the largest public collection of works by Alexander Calder, Louise Nevelson, and Lucas Samaras, as well as significant works by Jasper Johns, Donald Judd, Agnes Martin, Bruce Nauman, Georgia OKeeffe, Claes Oldenburg, Kiki Smith, and Andy Warhol, among other artists. With its history of exhibiting the most promising and influential American artists and provoking intense debate, the Whitneys signature show, the Biennial, has become the most important survey of the state of contemporary art in America today.
The Biennial’s lead sponsor is Altria.