I had many thoughts about the first half Schwabsky's "Scattered Threads" review of the 2010 Whitney Biennial in The Nation. I'll see if I can summarize them in a way that gets my point across. As a warning, this probably won't be pretty.
I'll sit on this Schwabsky quote as I think it is what he intended as the climax of the article or at least the climax of the point I was most interested in.
"My argument is not with Sinclair's commitment to document realities that most of us find hard to face even in pictures, let alone in person. Rather, it is with the curators' inability to articulate their exhibition in a way that establishes a dialectic between the aesthetic and topical aspects of contemporary art. The threads Jewell spoke of in 1932 remain scattered. "
So, now allow me the pleasures of reckless extrapolation and reduction. It seems he is griping about entering the show hoping to hang his hat on something but instead is left just as confused, or more confused, about the world than when he came in. I could insert some sort of quick quip here and be done but I'm trying to do that less these days.
Schwabsky sets up his complaint by suggesting the question "What's the point of the Biennial?” and then answers it for us by looking at Jewell's historical enthusiasm for the show as a means to quickly put one's mind, finger, and/or dollar, on "contemporary art." By having a large regularly occurring group show, "scattered threads are woven into a single strand and a broad survey of the field becomes possible." Schwabsky then, in a move reminiscent of Wile E. Coyote sharpening his knives before pursuit of the Roadrunner, compares the purview of the Biennial curator in 1932 (select the artists) to the purview of the Biennial curator today (select the work) in order to define Bonami and Carrion-Murayari's job for us.
Schwabsky uses the word "dialectic" to define what he wanted from the show - a word leaving me wanting more detail. But I'll take a guess. With phrases like “unbridgeable gap,” “scant coherence,” and “the show’s two poles” it seems Schwabsky upset about not getting a “DJ set” of art where the hooks and melodies of great songs are made even more amazing by those in-between bits the DJ is stewing into things you can't identify but are deeply moved by, or at least dancing your ass off to. "Wow this is great, I have no idea what I'm listening to but it is awesome and my friends and I are all dancing to it. Hey wait a minute! I think hear that new Thom Yorke song!" And then you leave the club having experienced something unique and amazing. You find out that music has a name (insert electronic music genre name here.) You'll be telling your other friends about it; and they will get hip to it; and all will be right with the world. Even your hangover is going to be awesome. On the flipside, it is then easy to register the "it all sounded the same" complaint against this type of smooth in-key creativity.
But I don't think this sort of experience, or even a rejection of it, was on Bonami and Carrion-Murayari’s radar. I think the lack of a "x is really big this year" vision ("'Back to drawing' is really big this year." or "Utopias and neon are really big this year.") was explicit but not intentional. It seemed the focus was on timeliness and the inherent ball of confusion that surrounds a word like that in the year 2010.
I find that aspect of their curation pretty refreshing, but it doesn’t leave people with much to talk about at the bar. Artists and art writers are particularly susceptible to the unpleasant taste and odor of this type of confusion. "I Didn't Know What to Make of It" isn’t such a great coffee table book title.
With no "really big this year" in play, it is easy and fun to postulate the inclusion of Nina Berman and Stephanie Sinclair’s work as some sort of coup plotted by "the real" to put the mustache on the Mona Lisa. Strangely, Schwabsky takes this bait, chews on it a while and then spits it out as his bridge to his “there’s no dialectic here” statement.
After my second visit to the Biennial, I felt Bonami and Carrion-Murayari were definitely crafting something very specific and complicated. I'm not so into the word "dialectic." I just think of it as them being on the hook to curate the show —to work with the individual artists and artworks in the crafting of an “art Voltron” with an energy that exists in cohabitation with, but also unique to, each single artwork and viewer in the show. I could feel that energy. I haven't been able to fully understand and classify all the complexities of it but I could feel it and it felt coherent. It just might take me a while to put my finger on it's nuances. And Obama, Facebook, the commodification of dissent, nostalgification of Generation X, and a whole mess of other 2010 things are in that hopper. It is odd becuase many of the individual works didn't do it for me, but I liked the overall energy and complexities of the show.
I have no deadline to summarize what I think about the show, so some slow thinking on its complexities is a luxury I can afford and also a luxury I actually find luxurious. I suppose that puts me in the “I actually like not knowing what to make of it” camp.