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Robert Schonfeld

Whitney Biennial

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Been twice now. Always a good thing to see a show like this more than once. The first time I went with Mazal. It was a members' preview, reeking with artchic, and full of unavoidable commentary from self-appointed experts, not to mention "collectors" who had dragged their less-enlightened friends especially to see the artist whose work also graces their own living room, and is, therefore, the best artist.

 

The second time, I took a couple of interns who are working for me over spring break. Their own unstudied reactions were fascinating. It was equally interesting to see what stayed with me a second time through.

 

I thought some of the photography was a notch above the usual Biennial selections, especially the person who did the pictures along the Mississippi. I very much enjoyed the film, "89 Seconds at Alcazar", which features the characters from Velasquez' Las Meninas, who briefly coalesce into the painting's composition, and then move on. There was a very good watercolorist and an interesting large tryptich drawing of figures in a landscape. Robert Longo's charcoals are beautiful. Another old timer, Robert Mangold, has a few elegant pictures. While I was looking at them, a complete stranger came up to me, grabbed me by the arm and said, "What the hell are these doing here?" Then there is the artist who has made a separate drawing representing the action on each page of Thomas Pynchon's "Gravity's Rainbow". The room with the lights is a trip in the sixties sense of that word. A certain amount of looking back to that era crops up here and there in the exhibition.

 

Strangely, I thought, some works have curatorial explanations in the form of wall text, while others, seemingly equally obtuse or deserving in some way of enlightenment, do not.

 

In all, ample good things to see; rather less controversy than in the past. Some might call it dull for that reason. Rest assured, though: there are ample examples of less than the best or somehow qualitatively offputting works to allow fulmination on the part of those so inclined.

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