The Whitney Biennial’s Controversial Snapshot: Lorraine O’Grady and Michael Jackson
You have to stay through 1:08 of the video below (and see also 6:59) to see in situ the four diptychs of the Lorraine OGrady photo-mural at the Whitney Biennial, paralleling the white ambulance-hearse of The We Love America and America Loves Us installation by Bruce High Quality Foundation. This dyadic room, which curator Francesco Bonami has said he would pick as a “snapshot” of his show, deals in an “idea of Americanness (that) is strange and specific to define.”
America, indeed is part of the Whitney Museum (of American Art)s name, and thus requires the biennial to show only American artists, to be American. That America is always invested in the idea of the future makes the resurgent nostalgia of appropriation an interesting factoid of the confused art world. Some analyses say that as the world exits boom times the emboldened class struggle manifests as anger at (rich) art. I still heard a lot of things on the Armory Show floor that would contradict this. If, however, as Bonami has observed of Lorraine OGradys Jackson-Baudelaire equation, theirs is “a love story with not a happy end,” one could say the same on encountering Marcia Tuckers name in the New Museums lobby. Shes gone and so is all pretense that art is a voluntary gathering of equals. “Skin Fruit,” Greek billionaire Dakis Joannous collection curated by Jeff Koons, is the subject of much self-important huffing in the blogosphere, but Peter Schjeldahl offers the most incisive insight via this online slideshow. Good work on the floors, indeed, but the usual suspects are enshrined and the insanity of “market values” around brand name artists owned by a museum boardmember has made for a lot of handmade ethical pedestals with plugged-in bullhorns. Nuance is neither present in object nor word.
OGrady at the Whitney meanwhile suggests that the doomed louches, Jackson and Baudelaire, are nominally the “first and the last” modernists. They start young and grow older in the four picture-pairs until world-weary, bleached into vacuity, they seem to secede to matters inevitable fade. The 1993 image of Michael in the series was taken by photographer Harry Benson — and has just incited a firestorm of comments in the blogosphere about the old saw of appropriation. Funny thing, this.
This appropriation debate is surely not new, has seen little known photographers sue (unsuccessfully) Barbara Kruger (whose pink futura letters, Your History Is Not Our History, adorn a poster that came in the mail) et cetera, with more undoubtedly to come. From Shepard Fairey on the defensive to Dale Chihuly acting as a plaintiff contending a copyrightable “”style,” all that can safely be said is that everything 1982-1989 is new again (below: Louise Lawlers, Arranged by David Marron, Susan Brundage, Cheryl Bishop at Paine Webber, 1982). From the naive feel-grad school aesthetic of much of the gallery work shown at the contemporary fairs, to artist David Salles take on what his compadres were doing through the lens of two decades forward, the past is everywhere. Meanwhile, stories below and half a block east, at MoMa, Marina Abramovics first performance retrospective for that venerable institution now featuring live acts in the doorways, found her dealer Sean Kelly, in anticipation, reportedly doing killer business at the Armory Show. More on all that later this week.