Whitney Biennial 2017

Whitney Biennial, where the new artists is featured and introduced every 2 years, has been going on for a few months. I finally got to visit Whitney last weekend. I was quite surprised that the main exhibition only took up two floors, but it still covered numerous artists – some are already known among the experts and some are quite new to the scene, according to my arts school friends.

Few things that already excited me before stepping into the exhibition were

  • Talented and Young Curators: Christopher Y. Lew, Mia Locks who had pretty independent/freelancing/diverse and super impressive curatorial careers. Plus, they are both Asian Americans.
  • Biennial is the exhibition to introduce New, Young, Innovative artists
  • Untitled Cafe (details in the very end of this post)

휘트니 비엔날레 (영어로는 바이에니얼 이라고 읽음) 는 2년마다 열리는 행사이다. 신진 아티스트들을 소개하며 평소의 전시에서 선보이지 못한 독특하거나 이슈화 될 만한 작품, 미래지향적 트렌드를 반영한 작품 등을 볼 수 있다.

이번 휘트니를 방문하면서 나와 친구들이 더 기대했던 이유는 큐레이터들이었다.  젊고 패기 가득해보이는 젊은 두 남녀 큐레이터는 독립적이면서도 화려한 경력을 갖춘 것으로 보였다. 그리고 둘 다 아시안계 아메리칸. 이들의 관점에서 나오는 비엔날레는 어떨지 궁금했다.

 

 

The school banner flags (with no school logos but handcrafted designs) hanging up on the first floor ceiling welcomes you as soon as you step in to the museum. And child mannequins accompany you going up and down the staircases from the basement coat check to the 6th floor, which is the last/first stop of your visit.

몇 년 전에 첼시로 이전한 휘트니 건물은 밖 머리 위에 날개같은 구조가 있다. 이 부분 때문에 사람들은 밖에서 긴 줄을 서면서도 비를 안 맞을 수 있다. (칭찬해~~) 긴 줄을 기나 안으로 들어서면 (호그와트 장면이 연상되다가 마는) 괴기한 문장들이 그려진 플래그들이 천장에 늘어서있다. 그리고 계단을 올라가면서 전시가 시작 되는데, 그 계단에 아이들 마네킹들이 철봉에 매달려있다.

[휘트니 사진 모음]

Exhibition (3/17/17~6/11/17)

Sculptures, video arts, VR or digital-inspired or site-specific installations, mosaic tiles, a projection room, and paintings. Definitely a lot of interesting mediums. But fewer impressive messages, which I think is the assignment for the current arts scene in general. It felt like every big issue has already been covered; gender, race, death, depression and more. While there are still so many perspectives about such subject matters to be discussed, those topics often shut down my interests as soon as I see such keywords, even before I get to carefully read the artist’s own thoughts. I find specific topics, personal stories, marginalized history episodes that aren’t widely shared yet to be much more intriguing. There was one video artist who is a Myanmar-American and he shared about the his family’s own experience of being a refugee after the war. While you can say refugee is a common topic these days, it is not very easy to see those first-hand stories delivered through arts.

조각, 비디오 아트,  VR,  디지털, 설치 작품, 모자이크, 프로젝션, 페인팅. 수많은 미디엄들이 굉장히 많은 이야기를 하고 있었다. 특히 다국적 아티스트들의 자신의 인종/문화/나라에 관한 작품들이 많았다.

흑인 총살 사건을 백인 작가가 작품화하면서 논란이 되었던 페인팅도 있었다. 비엔날레 초기에 흑인들이 그 앞에서 시위를 하고, 다른 사람들이 보지 못하게 했다고 한다. 그에 대한 대응으로 아티스트는 자신이 이 페인팅으로 받게 되는 수익은 전혀 사유화할 생각이 없다고 밝혔다지만 논란은 그래도 어느 정도 유지되었다는 일화. 아쉽게도 그 날은 전혀 그런 데모를 볼 수 없었다.

본론으로 돌아가,  작가들이 다룬 인종 차별/다문화/죽음/우울증/자본주의 와 같은 토픽들은 사실 너무 이미 포화된 토픽이라고 생각되어 아쉬웠다. 하지만 그런 주제를 다룸에도 불구하고 더욱 눈에 들어오는 작가들이 있다. 바로 본인의 경험 – 직접 촬영한 영상이고 자신의 이야기라면 포화된 주제라 해도 확 와닿는다.  이게 바로 디테일의 힘인가.

한 미얀마-아메리칸은 자신의 가족이 피난민이 되었던 경험을 영상으로 만들어서 전시했다. 굉장히 선명하고 주목을 끄는 영상미이기도 했지만, 굉장히 구체적인 소재이자 소외된 사람들의 이야기였던 만큼 인상깊었다.

But of course, even though the topics can be quite generic, there are times the artwork (visual) itself keeps me entertained. The video art talking about the diversity had such a great soundtrack and visually attractive that most people would easily find it pretty. New York Times-inspired crisis cartoons reminded me of Hieronymus Bosch, which is my favorite AP-Art-History artist.

As always, I started from the top, the 6th floor, of the museum, avoiding excessive move in the gallery. Don’t get me wrong. I love hanging around in the galleries. But with my scoliosis, I get easily exhausted after walking. I would like to save that energy to enjoy the exhibitions more.

Floor 6

KAYA: Several video arts and paintings that illustrate the lights beaming from the asses.
Asad Raza: Trees at the end of 6th floor exhibition, right next to the window balcony. Decorated with real trees and UV lights. I liked it as a nature-inspired piece but the presentation could have been more interesting or meticulous.
Henry Taylor: Roughly cut parts of sofas and towels are wet and dyed, irregularly placed in the wall and the floor. Gave an interesting view of the textures and colors.
Kaari Upson: VR violence; Too Long (line); Didn’t See. Violence is such a common theme in VR now, so I didn’t see a merit of waiting the line to watch the project. My friend who watched it told me that she didn’t particularly enjoyed it, partially because of gore and aggressive scenes. As she isn’t a VR expert or curator AND I understand that generating emotional response through violent/visual materials is VR’s specialty, I won’t evaluate the project based on that. But I wasn’t very intrigued or convinced by Whitney’s brief explanation attached to the wall, which gave me no surprise or expectation.
Porpentine Charity Heartscape: A web-based game installation room where 5-6 people sitting in front the zig-zag shaped desks in a dimmed setting. A huge projected screen next to them shows the public what they are doing. They click the words or phrases that are highlighted and each click leads you to different screen. I did not quite understand what it was leading to. It was more like a communal digital AI poetry.

아래 영상에서도 위에 언급한 작가/작품들을 볼 수 있다. 가상 현실 작품도 (당연히) 있었지만, 그닥이라는 평이 있어서 굳이 줄을 서면서까지 보고 싶지 않았다. 무엇보다도 가상 현실 전시는 그 찝찝한 눈가 스펀지… 너무 싫다.

가장 인상에 남는 것은 아래의 첫 번째 영상: Mia 큐레이터가 이전에 같이 작업했던 Samara Golden 이라는 작가이다. 거울을 이용한 착시현상을 활용했다. 천재다! 라는 느낌이 바로 들었다. 처음에는 보면서 읭?어디가 어디지? 라는 생각이 들다가 이내 소품들을 다 위아래 뒤집어서 붙이고, 거울을 통해서 제대로 된 ‘상’을 보여준다. woah!

[휘트니 영상 모음]

Floor Five

Postcommodity: Projecting the videography of Mexico border driving journey on all four walls of a closed room. Different speeds of videos on different walls. Dizzy but immersive.
Dana Schutz: Emmett Till which caused a huge debate and fire regarding Black Lives Matter, exploring the fences between two extremes such as public and private/time and space.
Kamasi Washington: A video art with the best music, which can be undoubtedly watched as indie band’s music video. It addresses racism and diversity issues.
Julien Nguyen: A satire piece about modern society’s crisis in New York Times newspaper-inspired panel shape. Each news section serves as the altar of cartoon-looking (Japanese-style-inspired) characters with big eyes and exaggerated body parts.
Tuan Andrew Nguyen: A short film about the historical refugee camp in the island of Malaysia after Vietnam War. The artist and his family were some of 250,000 inhabited there.

Tuan Andrew Nguyen’s film takes place in a dystopian future in which the last man on earth—having escaped forced repatriation to Vietnam—finds a United Nations scientist who has washed ashore after the world’s last nuclear battle. By weaving together footage from Bidong’s past with a narrative set in its future, Nguyen questions the individual’s relationship to history, trauma, nationhood, and displacement.  –Whitney Biennial 2017

Aliza Nisenbaum: Latin, Mexico immigrant background stories with vivid hues and daily subtle narratives.
Raul de Nieves: Talks about death, mundane, symbolism with attractive colors on the mosaic window tiles that cover up the entire wall. Reminded me of cathedrals I visited during my Europe travels
Samara Golden: Extremely clever piece at the edge of 5th floor of the Whitney. Using mirrors that reflect the roads outside as well as her handcrafted doll-house-like pieces decorating the spaces on both side-walls, both the ceiling and the floor of each. It looks as if the entire side-rails are full of tiny decorations.

 

Untitled Cafe

I actually started this long-time-no-gallery visit from Untitled cafe. The menus didn’t seem too abstract or too luxurious. My friends and I ordered French Toast (citrus spiced yogurt, honey, almonds), Spring vegetables and duck broth (with asparagus), and Butterball potato has (with feta cheese, fried egg, pickled onion). These sound pretty simple and casual, right? I mean, I still expected something nice because it’s WHITNEY. Yet, since the menu didn’t make it sound extremely fancy, I was not betting on the dishes too much; more like oh-its-nice-to-feel-like-a-rich-veteran-arts-connoisseur-who-casually-eats-in-the-gallery.

But Oh my Gahhhh. It was much much better than I expected. Spring vegetables tasted like they were just picked from the garden (like literally, but in a good way) — which reminded me of my friend who just casually ate the flower’s honey while walking around the small open garden in Manhattan. Citrus gave a nice small punch to a french toast. And butterball potato was the best mix of potato, feta cheese, and pickled onion. All the food were nothing like we expected from their names, in a good way, and maybe that’s why the cafe is called ‘Untitled’.

마지막으로 Untitled 카페는 휘트니에 간다면 꼭 한 번 가볼 만한 카페이다. 그냥 커피나 하려고 들어갔다가 아예 브런치를 먹었는데, 와우 너무 맛있다. 메뉴 이름만 보면 별 기대가 안 된다. 하지만 나오는 음식을 보면 비쥬얼부터 감탄하게 된다. 생각하지 못한 조합으로 향과 색을 만들어낸다. 마치 옆 밭에서 막 떼어 온 꽃/풀 재료도 너무 좋았다. 향도 신선하고. 추천! (사진은 위의 인스타 사진 모음 끝에 있다.) 한국에도 Untitled 라는 이름의 식당이 생겼다는데…흠 ㅎㅎ 안가봐서 모르겠다. 휘트니의 Untitled는 컨템포러리한 휘트니와 있어서 그런지 굉장히 잘 맞는 합이라는 느낌이 든다. 나중에 생각해보니 Untitled라는 식당 이름은 마치 메뉴 이름만 보고 판단하지 말라는 레슨 같기도 했다.

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