Apr 30, 2017

Moving Images at the Whitney Biennial

Last Sunday I went to the Whitney Museum of American Art to see the 2017 Whitney Biennial exhibition. Every two years, the Whitney Biennial acts as a survey of the current landscape of contemporary American art and artists. At this year’s exhibition, there are a wide array of different mediums featured, from painting, photography, and sculpture to performance art and a multitude of time-based media works. The moving image artworks in the show include formats such as 16mm, 4K digital video, and even virtual reality. These various audiovisual works are interspersed throughout the museum’s fifth and sixth floor galleries. They are displayed next to non-moving image works such as paintings and photographs in the same, brightly lit gallery spaces, though some are also shown isolated in separate, darkened screening rooms with blackout curtains preventing light spill from the galleries from entering the screening space.

The last time I visited the Whitney, I saw the Dreamlands exhibition, which was comprised entirely of moving image works. One of the impressions I had about Dreamlands concerned audio (an aspect of time-based media works that museum curators should carefully consider when planning exhibitions). In many of the gallery rooms in Dreamlands, the audio from several different pieces could be heard simultaneously, and in some cases the resulting cacophony made it difficult to discern which sound track was meant to accompany which video. I am pleased to report that this was not an issue at the 2017 Whitney Biennial. The audiovisual works on view are dispersed throughout the galleries in such a configuration that the audio from one piece never overlaps with the audio of another.

(Leigh Ledare's Vokzal, 16mm film projection)

Though there are dozens of moving image works featured in the 2017 Whitney Biennial, I will briefly discuss three of them and the curatorial questions they raised for me.

·      The Flavor Genome (Anicka Yi, 2016, 3D high definition video)

       Anicka Yi’s The Flavor Genome is one of the works in the exhibition displayed in its own screening room. This piece requires that the viewer don 3D glasses, which two museum staff members hand out as one enters the screening room. The curatorial question that arose with me for this piece concerns how often components such as 3D glasses need to be replaced over the course of an exhibition. The side pieces on the glasses I received were extremely stretched out, causing the glasses to repeatedly fall off my face during the screening. This type of wear and tear on viewing devices needs to be considered when programming events (especially if it is a months-long exhibition that is open every day).

·      Vokzal (Leigh Ledare, 2016, 16mm film)

      Leigh Ledare’s 16mm work Vokzal was unfortunately projected in an extremely bright gallery space, and was placed next to a large, floor-to-ceiling stained glass piece that had no discernable relation to this work. The light emanating from the windows made the images coming from the 16mm film projector very difficult to view. This arrangement struck me as an odd curatorial decision.

·      Real Violence (Jordan Wolfson, 2017, virtual reality)

      I have seen virtual reality works at a few programmed events and I have to say that I the Whitney handled the exhibition of a VR work in a very efficient way. For Jordon Wolfson’s Real Violence, a table was set up with ten VR headsets so ten people could watch the piece at the same time. Though there was a line to view the work, it moved very quickly (even on a Sunday!) as the piece is fairly short and can accommodate ten viewers at once. As this work features extremely graphic violence, a warning of the brutal content was prominently displayed in the gallery. Museum staff members assisted patrons with putting on the VR headsets and I observed them cleaning the headsets in between viewings. The only issue I found was that the staff informed everyone the work was 90 seconds long, while the wall text said it was two and a half minutes long. Aside from this minor discrepancy, the Whitney and its staff did a great job curating this VR experience.

--Savannah Campbell

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.