At the Whitney on Wednesday there’s lots of films behind curtains in dark rooms. One loop is a guy getting himself tattooed, then getting graphically cut up and branded to a mumbling monologue voice over. “Hey, there’s a painter!” She does huge cartoony pin-up semi-nudes. Something about the reclamation of the voyeur. Someone is draping blankets on pointy pillars. There’s a bodysuit with digital screens on each shoulder. Over here you can pre-record your face and broadcast it. This means you don’t have to talk to people in person. One guy has made a massive collage out of kitchy landscape jigsaw puzzles.
All the newest galleries are in formerly meatpacking Chelsea. Warehouses — one is 15 floors of galleries. Go in, take the elevator, get off at each floor, visit three galleries. There’s a theme: Big room. Minimal art. Cement floors. Desk at back. Directors on phone. Some are friendly, some laid back, others inaccessible. A steady stream of young artsy visitors. No bankers on Wednesday. Day-tripping collectors happen on Saturdays. Two themes in paintings: One is highly complicated uncompositional cartoon collages with images from media and advertising slap-dash in generally strident colors. The other is slick modernistic stripes executed like a graphic designer’s machine shop. Some are like billboards but high-end color-field on polymer Arborite or sheet metal. One is hung like a bath towel on metal rods with a back and a front. Then there’s Day-glow fluroscents. Frames nondescript if present.
Unstretched canvas tacked, sagging on the wall. Photos, mostly 70s slice-of-life junky-chic snapshots of lesbian mothers and Mexican transvestite prostitutes. Installations like a 70’s living room where every piece of furniture has a projector installed. There are little movies going on all over the room. Someone has built a diorama of generic New York and a model jet plane overhead does a loop of crashing into the city complete with taped soundtrack of passengers screaming. A big rock on a timed wire falls like clockwork onto a new glass plate every 15 minutes. Warning on gallery door: “Sudden Loud Noises.”
PS: “Where’s the entertainment district?” (New York visitor in art gallery asking directions)
If you would like to read a first-hand opinion piece called “About the New York Gallery Scene” go to http://www.slowart.com/limner/htm/york.htm
The following are selected responses to the letter “A New York Story.” Thank you for taking the time to write.
The artist blossoms
Jean Pierre Daviau, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
There is a kid smiling. What does he say, why does he smile? He is expressing even though he is not aware of it and sometimes, by chance, not aware of himself.
This is art, humanity springing out of a natural body (animal). With time, the mind grasps onto it, tools and a lot of techniques comes along, wordy money, teachers and schools and the arousal of the thinking process increase process in teenagers.
And then, the compelling society with the deep beleif in self effort, the sacred goal of winning your life as one would win the sweepstake. Life is not granted, it is a goal you deserve, the price of your effort and the “freedom” to do what ever you want to yourself and to others. And the more you effortly you develop yourself, the more you are a part of art because you become the master and are no more the observer.
Skip Bleecker, Shepherd, Michigan
So how do artists not living in New York get into some of these galleries? I live in a small town in the Mid-west, and although I have some of my work on the Web for all to see, I would like to get into one of the galleries in a city like New York, or Chicago, Etc.
Report from Hicksville
The visitor in the New York art gallery asks, “Where’s the entertainment district?” The proper reply is “you’re in it.” Ever since galleries requested and encouraged controversial installations to bring in the gawkers, voyeurs and curiousity seekers to bolster sagging attendance, this sort of stuff has become common and acceptable. These galleries are not in the fine art business. They are in the entertainment business. This confirms what we in Hicksville have known for some time: If you make quality art, don’t bother sending it to New York.
Jane Cummings, California
My eye. My foot.
Not for my walls
oliver, Houston, Texas, USA
Much of what you describe in the current galleries doesn’t seem to be intended for decoration, or inspiration — they tend more toward provocation and in the minimalist case — perhaps a lifestyle.
Unfortunately, for most of us, many of the installations you describe are difficult to live with, unless they are captured on videotape for viewing later — via TV or the personal library. Even then how often would one want to review many of these pieces?
I think it is important for people to understand the role of art in life, and indeed how their work interacts with people. I went to a critique the other day and there were a couple of talented people who wondered why they weren’t getting more gallery interest. Both were very accomplished technically. What they didn’t understand was documentary shots of one lower middle class neighborhood in Houston has in general limited thematic appeal — at least contemporaneously. The other was a very interesting work of one very traumatized girl over a period of time. Very interesting and well done, but not for my walls.
In defense of the Whitney
Merrilee Meyer, New York
The Whitney Museum of American Art continues to promote cutting edge American and foreign artists who might not otherwise be shown. Furthermore, they have often taken courageous stands. For example the Whitney board has recently backed director Max Anderson in his allowing the work of Hans Haacke. This artist has had a life of vigorous defense of free speech, and while his work has upset and angered many, particularly the recent works concerning the Nazis and the Holocaust, it is being shown and is a useful example of the curative value of controversial art.
Draw what? A crowd?
Christopher Dennis, UK
I wonder how many of the art buyers both now and in the past buy artwork for the right reasons—— I want that piece because I like it, because I want to live with it, it enriches my life in some way. Not led by the critic who says this is innovative, the latest up and coming regardless of true talent.
I wonder how many ‘innovative artists’ turning out works that defy understanding, lack quality etc. can look and can actually draw!
“Work was like a stick. It had two ends. When you worked for the knowing you gave them quality; when you worked for a fool you simply gave him eye-wash.” (Alexander Solzhenitsyn)
Randolph Fuller, UK
We are at the tail end of the “junk as art” period of creative development. This stuff is fine for what it is Robert. It appears to amuse you. Is amusement enough?
Michelle, New York
In these transformed warehouses we celebrate the marvelous diversity of the human imagination.