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Archive for the ‘museums’ Category

Rudolf Stingel and Having to Be There: Participation

Posted by gninja on July 26, 2007


At the Whitney right now is an exhibition of works by Rudolf Stingel. (I have to admit–and I’m chalking this up to my being a medievalist–I’d never heard of Stingel before. But apparently, he [an import to the NY art scene from Italy] made a hit debut in 1991 with a great big orange carpet, and has been, as far as I can gather, a darling to the critics ever since.)

You can find reviews of his current Whitney exhibition here and here. In short, it’s the best exhibition I’ve been to in a long, long while. It epitomized for me why I go to a museum because it gave me what cannot be replicated elsewhere or in any other format.

From the Whitney website:

Employing such materials as rubber, carpet, painted aluminum, Styrofoam, and paint, Rudolf Stingel’s work questions and disrupts the viewer’s understanding and experience of an art object. Although Stingel’s work does not always involve paint on canvas, it continually reflects upon some of the fundamental questions concerning painting today, including authenticity, hierarchy, meaning, and context. While Stingel, who was shown in the 2006 Whitney Biennial, has created major installations for the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago and numerous other institutions, this is his first solo museum exhibition in the United States, surveying his career to date and including a new site-specific work.

Despite how much I was enamored of this show–and the experience of experiencing it– it has some shortcomings that are not so much a product of the exhibition as the result of its seductions.

The show includes several large rooms, each one devoted to between one and three works. But because of the relationship between the works and the gallery space, each room has the feeling of an installation, or I might even venture, a performance. The first room (pictured above) elicited some variation on “ooh” and “ah” from every person entering the room. It’s simply a large room with walls covered from floor to ceiling in aluminum foil panels, illuminated by a massive, somewhat low-hung chandelier glowing with soft warm light. Like entering the Tin Man’s ballroom. Unfortunately, I had approached from the stairwell, but I can imagine the effect of entering the room unaware of what would be in there would have been all the more exciting had I taken the elevator. Very theatrical.

I soon learned that the aluminum foil was actually a medium on which the museum-goers were invited to draw, place stickers and buttons or whatever else they had on hand. Some of the panels were transports from the same exhibition at the MCA, thus retaining a local flavor outside of its locale. It was a bit strange to see some shout-outs to Chicago in a museum in NY.

Clearly, this DIY aspect of the show went down well with the critics, though I thought it was the weakest part of the exhibition. Aside from the obvious criticism–that the invitation for musuem-goers to participate is gimicky– it detracted from what would otherwise have been an overwhelming experience of dislocation. Not only was the opulent and sumptuous effect of the room unexpected in the context of the Whitney museum, but it was also achieved through the use of an everyday item (aluminum foil) juxtaposed with a luxuriant lighting piece (the chandelier). The marks made by visitors, while fun, lessened the extravagant impression created by the use of these two strikingly different materials.

At the same time, Profiling, the other current exhibition at the Whitney which I discussed in a previous post reveals the shortcomings of the use of audience participation in Stingel’s show. Whereas the pieces in Profiling required the participation of museum-goers in order to communicate a very pointed and topical message (the simultaneous allurement and threat of omnipresent surveillance), the participation requested in Stingel’s exhibition lacked any sort of direction or, to be blunt about it, point. It seemed more an appeal to the increasing self-absorption of us these days, due to which it’s presumed we lack the attention span for anything not directly related to us. And rightly so. For chrissakes, each of the three headlining exhibitions at the Whitney now allow some form of participation (the Summer of Love one includes a kind of carpeted love cave in which people are allowed to cavort; picture the adult version of waiting in line for a carnival moon walk / bouncy castle, and you’ve got the right idea).

In any case, sometimes participation works and sometimes it doesn’t. In the case of Stingel’s aluminum walls, I’d say it merely amounts to a questioning of the author of a work of art.  Something which is neither new nor underdiscussed (if you’ve got access to JSTOR, just search in the art history journals for collaborative art or audience participation and art, and you’ll see what I mean).

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Profiling the Profilers: Update

Posted by gninja on July 9, 2007

Apropos yesterday’s post about the Whitney exhibition, “Profiling,” I woke up this morning to read this item in the NY Times.

By the end of this year, police officials say, more than 100 cameras will have begun monitoring cars moving through Lower Manhattan, the beginning phase of a London-style surveillance system that would be the first in the United States.

The Lower Manhattan Security Initiative, as the plan is called, will resemble London’s so-called Ring of Steel, an extensive web of cameras and roadblocks designed to detect, track and deter terrorists. British officials said images captured by the cameras helped track suspects after the London subway bombings in 2005 and the car bomb plots last month.

If the program is fully financed, it will include not only license plate readers but also 3,000 public and private security cameras below Canal Street, as well as a center staffed by the police and private security officers, and movable roadblocks.

Exciting stuff, eh? So, while I’m out on Wall Street, giving guided tours (a little plug for myself), I could hundreds of cameras on me! Tracking my every move! I’ll be a star!


Hi mom!

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Profiling the Profilers

Posted by gninja on July 8, 2007


I saw some great stuff at the Whitney today. Not a bad way to cool off in this 95 degree heat.

The first (small) exhibition I saw was Profiling, well-placed on the museum’s first floor. According to the curators:

Profiling features two artworks that present a dialogue on issues surrounding surveillance, protection, privacy, and identity by exploring the use of automated systems for tracking and “profling” people in public spaces. The connection between surveillance and entertainment is at the core of SVEN-Surveillance Video Entertainment Network by artists Amy Alexander, Jesse Gilbert, Wojciech Kosma, Vincent Rabaud, and Nikhil Rasiwasia. SVEN uses a computer application to track visitors’ movements through space and to analyze their “rock star potential.” A video-processing application uses the live camera feed to generate music video-like visuals. In David Rokeby’s surveillance installation Taken, two side-by-side projections provide different readings of the activities in the gallery space. A continuously accumulating history of the movements of people in the gallery is juxtaposed with a “catalog” of gallery visitors’ headshots that have classifying adjectives, such as “unsuspecting” or “hungry,” randomly attached to them. The projects brought together in Profiling expose the absurdities and subvert the effects of surveillance technologies.

People entering were clearly drawn to the digital images, either for its rarity in a museum or for the chance to see themselves projected on the wall of museum. Immediately past the attendant taking tickets, to the left, is a dark room with a split screen showing images of museum-goers walking about the room. On the left side was a screen containing a series of still-frames, each one an image of an museum visitor. The tiles were constantly shifting around, and periodically, one would be blown up to fit the entire space of the screen, and would be accompanied by a title, such as “unthreatened.”


On the right side of the screen, shifting, ghost-like images of the same people floated about as looped sequences.


I recall my entrance into the room and move toward the far corner being shown several times. A roving white-lined square honed in on people, heightening the experience of subjection to surveillance– as opposed to voyeurism. It felt menacing to see the back of my head focused in on and highlighted for everyone’s eyes.

For all its smallness, the exhibition was a good one for several reasons. For one, it accentuated the lurking sense of vulnerability I already feel when I visit a museum or other public space under surveillance. I am never just looking at works of art. I’m also feeling the lens of the camera on me, as well as the eyes of guards and perhaps even other museum visitors. So the exhibition was relevant to the museum-going experience itself.

It was also good because of its relevance to current concerns with privacy and governmental infringements of those rights. While on this side of the Atlantic we have illegal wiretapping (so, an audio invasion) on the other side there are concerns with omnipresent–though legal–CCTV. These works, while entertaining, effectively achieve the threatening nature of ubiquitous surveillance. The titles I mentioned above, in particular, portray the the perils of innacuracy in public profiling. They produced in me a sense of helplessness and futility at the specter of being misrepresented by the titles appended to my recorded image.

It’s a thoughtful exhibition, carried out really well.

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Rant: Neither Medieval Nor All That Artful

Posted by gninja on June 24, 2007

My alternate subtitle, by the by, was “Take This Art and Shove It!”

I’m not really supposed to be bloggerizing– I’m supposed to be Latinizing–but I just get so mad sometimes…

The venerable Frick Collection of NYC, admittedly one of my favorite galleries in the city. Small, beautifully appointed, and possessing a pretty spectacular range for its size– is now on my shit list, though I doubt they care. They should’ve been relegated there earlier, but I’m coming to this information late, it seems.

They don’t allow children under 10 to visit the gallery. Period. No children.



The Collection attempts to preserve the ambience of Mr. Frick’s private house, and visitors are therefore asked to observe regulations necessary for protecting the works of art and their domestic setting. Because few ropes or cases are used to guard fragile objects, children under ten are not admitted to the Collection, and those under sixteen must be accompanied by an adult. For more information, see Children or download our Policy on the Admission of Children (Adobe Acrobat required).

Sure, a day at the Frick may not be the most exciting way for a ten-year-old to spend her day, but what the hell? There seems little reason to their policy aside from their simply being stuffy assholes. I love, by the by, how there’s a section devoted to this policy, too.


Allow me to relate a brief anecdote. Last October, a seminar I attended went to the Frick one day for class. This seminar was taught by university professor Richard Brilliant, yes, Richard Brilliant. He was continually hassled by the guards there because of the Frick’s policy on lecturing.


Policy on lecturing?

Group Visits

Group visits are by appointment only. Lecturing in the galleries is prohibited. For more information, see Group Visits.

Oh, that, policy on lecturing. It seems disseminating knowledge and discussing art in an art freaking gallery is somehow offensive to the legacy of Mr. Frick. I get it. Brilliant, like the gentleman he is, agreed pleasantly to comply and then resumed lecturing us each time a guard came by to harrass him. After the trip, he wrote a pretty harsh letter to the gallery and then read it to us for our approval before sending it off. I really love that man.

Anyway, people have to pay insane admission charges to get in to the gallery. I guess the assumption is that they’re all wealthy and of employable age enough to pay someone from The Frick staff to tell them exactly what each work of art means and why it’s important. No questions!



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