By DAVID COHEN
March 5, 2008
Carol Bove’s ‘The Night Sky Over New York’ (2007) is part of the Whitney Museum’s 2008 Biennial, which starts on March 6 at the museum and the Park Avenue Armory.
If the Whitney Museum were a bar, the 2008 Biennial would be its happy hour. Social networking is of the essence at this biennial, a fraternal, anarchic gathering. Many of the artists know each other and work on collective, nonstudio-based projects — in addition, sometimes, to making their own objects.
But it is not a private drinking club — the public are welcome revelers, too. Anyone can sign up for the 24-hour dance marathon, attend the slumber party, or participate in the choreographed animal movement class for children and adults — all events staged as part of installations at the Park Avenue Armory, the biennial's second venue. And there is even a bar — organized by exhibiting artist Eduardo Sarabia.
This is a boho biennial, and a neo-hippy ethos is reflected as much in the finished objects as it is in the leisure-hour activities of the many of the 81 artists on display.
Indeed, the thirtysomething curators Shamim Momin and Henriette Huldisch have populated the exhibit with self-consciously scrappy, ephemeral, loose-at-the-edges art in their search to define the zeitgeist. By all accounts, that process was more an amble than a scramble. The number of artists included this year, 81, is down from the 106 of the jumbled, sprawling 2006 edition of the 77-year-old institutional fixture. Of the artists selected, 43 work in New York and 29 in Los Angeles or the Bay Area. Of the few working elsewhere in America, three are in Miami.
In keeping with youthful cool, the prevailing mood of the biennial is of casual idealism. Much of the work is politically or ecologically engaged, but in place of grand statements, anger, or urgency, there is a sense that gentle subversion will aid the revolution more than barricades; that sweet silliness, rather than heavy ideology, is the Molotov cocktail of choice. Ms. Huldisch used Samuel Beckett's notion of "lessness" to characterize the dissipatedness and ephemerality of the art selected. In harmony with the thesis of the New Museum's inaugural "Unmonumental" show, Ms. Huldisch stresses the keyword of "local." This is low-carbon-footprint art that is about little moves rather than big gestures. It favors recycled, or at least modest, materials, and minor efforts in transforming them. It embraces failure, not in a heavy old existentialist sense of radical doubt, but rather humorously and solipsistically: Think holy fool, not tortured genius.