/ March 6, 2008

"Plus One"

Given Carly Berwick’s branding in New York magazine of the 2008 Whitney Biennial as the exhibition’s Facebook installment (a characterization prompted in part by cocurator Shamim Momin’s legendary predilection for what she terms “the embrace of locality”), it was perhaps unsurprising that Tuesday night’s VIP opening was packed not only with boldface names but also, seemingly, with all their old classmates. Advance word directed me away from the museum’s main door and toward a lesser-known way in on Seventh-fourth Street (dubbed the “Jane Seymour Entrance” by a friend who’d once observed the actress being shepherded through it), and while even this was mobbed, it was at least mobbed by a slew of recognizable faces. An overheard comparison to a Grateful Dead parking lot was entirely accurate, given the reunionlike atmosphere. One glance around took in Yvonne Force Villareal (later spotted wearing, in a move fairly dripping with irony, a T-shirt emblazoned with the slogan THE DAYS OF THIS SOCIETY IS NUMBERED), 1995 Whitney Biennial curator Klaus Kertess, dealers Elizabeth Dee, Sara Meltzer, and David Kordansky, Fruit and Flower Deli “keeper” Rodrigo Mallea Lira with painter Ylva Ogland, and artists Julie Mehretu and Bozidar Brazda. The list, like that of the eighty-one artists in the show, goes on.

Once inside, the choice was between an already hectic lobby, an already hectic bar, and the already hectic show (which, at this point, had been open for roughly half an hour). A pack of photographers in the lobby were having a blast capturing the ever-changing moods of enthusiastic posers like artists Marilyn Minter and Terence Koh, while the bar scene was similarly spotted with past, present—and undoubtedly future (Jen DeNike? Ellen Altfest?)—Biennial participants. Passing artists Tim Noble and Sue Webster on the stairs from the bar, comparing early notes with artist Nathan Carter and Biennial catalogue designer Miko McGinty back in the lobby, and clocking the show’s cocurator Henriette Huldisch across the room, I finally made a break for the galleries. Momin, networker extrordinaire, was, as yet, nowhere to be seen.

Dominated by sculpture and lacking much in the way of color, the show looked at first glance formally cohesive but felt, well, a bit grim. A preponderance of quasi-architectural forms and raw-looking industrial materials made for an experience that was at times more like a site visit than a gallery tour. When it worked, the effect was elegant (if notably academic), but on this celebratory occasion at least, it was hard not to miss the trashy pizzazz of the 2006 show. The exhibition also lacked a memorable clincher along the lines of that year’s Rudolf Stingel/Urs Fischer face-off, though installations by Jason Rhoades and Mika Rottenberg were already enthusiastically being discussed. Among those doing the discussing were artists Rirkrit Tiravanija, Anna Gaskell, Banks Violette, Liam Gillick, and Sarah Morris, dealers Andrea Rosen and Andrew Kreps, and Whitney director Adam Weinberg.

Around 10 PM, I accompanied a small crew—including artist Jordan Wolfson and V magazine editor Christopher Bollen—from the museum to the Park Avenue Armory, the Biennial’s satellite venue. After the hot, jammed museum, the older building’s hangarlike main space (empty, save an installation of neon lights on the far wall by Gretchen Skogerson) and network of smaller—though still grand—side rooms, was refreshing. But as visitors gradually arrived, and Eduardo Sarabia’s artist-staffed tequila bar got busier, the only hint of respite came in the form of DJ Olive’s tented room upstairs, in which a row of beds provided the perfect environment for absorbing a drifting ambient sound track.

Rejecting the convenience of Stefania Bortolami and Kordansky’s party at nearby Serafina, I elected to join a posse headed downtown to Florent—in no small part because of the prospect of a decent meal, but also in partial tribute to the beloved late-night eatery’s imminent demise—and I hopped a cab to an otherwise-hushed meatpacking district. Seating myself between tables presided over by artists Walead Beshty and Heather Rowe, my companions and I came close to solving the Problem of Criticism (if only we could remember the answer . . . ), before a mass exodus prompted the evening’s final relocation. Arriving at subterranean Lower East Side lounge Bacaro around 2 AM, we braved an entrance guarded by a fearsome cadre of smokers in the charge of artist Hanna Liden. Inside, the scene appeared relatively laid-back, certainly a far cry from the expected debauchery. Among those holding court in the cozy cellar were a number of familiar faces, including artists Adam McEwen, Dan Colen, Rita Ackermann, Agathe Snow, Nate Lowman, Gardar Eide Einarsson, Eli Sudbrack, and dealers Kelly Taxter and Eivind Furnesvik. Then, at 3 AM, a loud “Hey!” It was Momin.

Image: Biennial cocurator Shamim M. Momin