Friday, March 7, 2008


That headline was a geography test. If you immediately thought Biennial! then you live in New York. Proceed to Go.

I guess the Biennial is supposed to be some kind of litmus test for what is hot in the art scene right now. So let me pare it down for you:

Bird droppings
Inspiration walls as gallery installations
Shiny and metallic
Vinyl-sheathed "paintings"
Cinder blocks
Broken heart
Sharded glass

If you're working with any of these mediums right now, your due for a Biennial entry has passed, because it's already been done. SAWRRY.

The 2008 Biennial is unique in its use of newly commissioned art, so while several pieces fell short on insight or execution (ahem, inspiration walls and giant litter boxes seriously?), there were enough pieces to set into flight a sense of possibility and wonder that only seeing something new and beautiful can do. So yes, go, even though you can find all those images online.

Topping the list of faves was Eduardo Sarabia's storeroom installation "The Gift." Like if you crossed a Mexican bodega with Chinatown souvenir shop then meticulously dusted and polished everything (including the cardboard boxes) into high gloss. Then hired Martin Burney to measure the placement of each freshly glazed artifact on the shelves. Perfection! Is it a commentary on commercialism? immigration policies? the whole weird concept of stores devoted to gifts? you tell me.

There were plenty of video installations to round out the entries, but for some reason, I can never really get into videos in a museum setting. For many reasons. Stepping away from the brightly lit displays into a darkened room, interrupting and being interrupted, walking in on a middle, since if it's going to be a narrative I want to catch it from beginning to end; and the complete inability to sit still when my idea of a gallery tour resembles a Sunday drive in the country: slow, leisurely, contemplative, but always moving.

However, I did find myself rather transfixed by Mika Rottenberg's video installation "Cheese," a ramshackle plywood construction, where you enter and stand in any of several viewing nooks to catch a septuplet of real-life Rapunzels (the famed Sutherland Sisters?) in various stages of an elaborate procedure for rendering one square block of cheese, not the least of which is funneling water from a waterfall back to the farm through a simple garden hose. The background noises of goat's milk spurting into a metal pail, chickens clucking, and the restless head-butting and kicking of kids fall into a mesmerizing rhythm sustaining the bucolic fairy tale atmosphere.

Exiting the viewing area, I found several women and girls furiously scribbling notes in front of Ms. Rottenberg's artist statement — perhaps suddenly inspired into feminist reverie...and failed to see any other artist garnering nearly as much attention for theirs.

Thumbs up also for other-worldly bird dropping-inspired sculptures, sugary cement blocks edged with glitter and Ry Rocklen's nail-studded bedspring.

"Cheese" image taken by Libby Rosof.

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