• Travelogue
  • Travelogue: NYC Art Binge

    Jenny Holtzer, Claes Oldenburg, Kenneth Anger, Francis Bacon, “If accidents will”, Dresden and Jacques Torres

    When I found out I would be in New York last month, I contacted my friend and gallery-hopping pal, Jake, who has lived there on-and-off for years.  As luck would have it, he was free to see some exhibits with me.  He had already seen, The Generational: Younger than Jesus at the New Museum and had also been to the Whitney to see the Jenny Holtzer and Claes Oldenburg exhibits.  “So, no Chelsea this trip?” he asked.  “Not this time.”  He added, “We also have to go to Jacques Torres on Hudson St. He makes ice cream now.”   “We’re there.”

    We ended up seeing a number of retrospectives at the major museums.  I went to the Whitney on my own and we both went to see Francis Bacon at the Metropolitan Museum, Kenneth Anger and others at PS 1 and the Brücke artist group at the Neue Gallery.  He asked why I wanted to go to the major institutions – especially to see the Brücke group (Dresden’s turn-of-the century pioneering group of German Expressionists).  I said that I hadn’t been to some of these places in many years and all these exhibits were collections of works never exhibited together before.

    Day 1: Whitney Museum

    Jenny Holzer: PROTECT PROTECT

    March 12-May 31, 2009

    After I had a cappuccino and a wonderful pastry at Veneiro’s in the East Village I made my way up to the Whitney to see Jenny Holtzer: PROTECT PROTECT.  



    Jake had said, “The scale of Holtzer’s show is very impressive.  But I thought I  was in the middle of Times Square for a second surrounded by all those strobing LED’s.”   He wasn’t wrong about the scale.  It was expansive.  The scale of the technical installations alone were impressive. According to the Whitney’s website,”PROTECT PROTECT centers on Holzer’s work since the 1990s and is the artist’s most comprehensive exhibition in the United States in more than fifteen years.”  The installations were also very hypnotic and quite beautiful in a hyper-techno-savvy way.  I was one of many viewers in the darkened rooms standing in trance-like states reading the rivers of Holzer’s trademark Truisms as they flowed by like little verbal streams of wisdom.  The content of this exhibit was drawn from the very personal to the highly political including the artist’s written words from 1977 to 2001 as well as from redacted documentation from declassified government papers which were presented as paintings in addition to the LED installations and sculpture.   Needless to say, at one moment I was reading personal statements ala “Protect me from what I want” to the political including text from government documents describing conditions at Guantanamo Bay and the treatment of enemy combatants.  What I didn’t expect in this exhibit was the Lustmord Table which was a display of human bones meticulously arranged in rows from large to small.  Lustmord, German for rape-slaying, is an earlier work about war atrocities that occurred in Yugoslavia perpetrated by Bosnian-Serb forces.  This piece was in stark contrast to the majority of the exhibit.  If it’s inclusion was supposed to shake you out of a trance-like-LED-induced state, it worked on me.  At the time, I resented this shock but in retrospect, I have to bow to it’s effectiveness.  All too often, artists create works with political and/or dire content and sometimes these ideas lose their impact in the physical translation because of the medium of choose.   This small piece brought the rest of the exhibition into focus for me.  Being lulled by the familiar robotic nature of the electronics was in some way actually a by-product of the exhibit.  It was only a subliminal vehicle for relaying some very powerful subject matter by a courageous and masterful artist.   I was grateful that I had seen this exhibit as it closed on May 31. For images and an interview with the artist, go to the Whitney’s website at http://whitney.org/www/holzer/index.jsp.

    Claes Oldenburg: Early Sculpture, Drawings, and Happenings Films;

    Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen: The Music Room

    May 7-September 6, 2009

    If Jenny Holzer’s exhibition was the main course, then Claes Oldenburg’s exhibition was the cherry on the sundae.  I remembered what Jake had said about this exhibit, “…It came from the ’60′s – but I liked it.”   If giant drooping sculptures of French Fries and Ketchup (1963), Giant BLT (1963), Soft Toilet (1969) or a giant soft sculpture of an Ice Bag (1971) doesn’t make you smile, not much will.  The Whitney had restored the giant Ice Bag and it’s mechanical components.  It creaked in circular slow motion and made me think how far artists have come in producing moving pieces since this piece was created.  This was a real dinosaur but you had to admire the ambition behind the scale.  In fact, there was a wall of photos of very large public art pieces that this artist had executed over the years with always familiar objects – saws, hammers, etc.   The soft sculpture continued in another gallery with whimsical musical instrument pieces that were created in collaboration with Coosje van Bruggen.  There was also a room with projections of films entitled Happenings.  Jake was right – this entire exhibit was like traveling back to the ’60′s.   But it was a welcomed counterpoint to the weightiness of the previous exhibit.

    I met Jake later for dinner at Keste Pizza & Vino at 271 Bleecker St near Jones.  This is a new Neapolitan pizza place with a coal oven built by craftsmen from Naples.  The Margherita pie was very good but a bit pricey for the size.  After this, we went (nearly next door) to the Blind Tiger for a drink.  The Blind Tiger was his favorite pub when it was located on Hudson at 10th St.   It was a neighborhood bar where you might see a lawyer as easily as a line cook.  It was unpretentious and had a great beer selection.  On occasion, it even had cask conditioned ale on tap.  After having to move to its new location on Bleecker near Jones (in order to make way for yet another unnecessary Starbucks in order to continue the homogenation of Manhattan) it seems to draw bigger crowds but there is a larger number of NYU students and tourist types in the mix.  Jake still goes there for the beer as do many other regulars from the old place.

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