One would have to have a cold, cold heart indeed not to feel for Whitney czar Adam Weinberg as he cried tears of joy at the Whitney’s downtown groundbreaking ceremony for its new Renzo Piano building, which I watched in its self-congratulatory entirety on New York City’s self-promoting cable channel. A lisping Mayor Bloomberg acted as master of ceremonies, comparing the Whitney move to "building schools in the Bronx and Brooklyn," ignoring the fact that his own administration forgot to add schools in its ULURP plans for downtown post 9/11, leading to kindergarten overcrowding and angry parents in a part of town which has been dubbed "the new Park Slope" for its toddler explosion.
But there is always a new toy for Bloomie to extol, in this case a Renzo Piano structure which resembles one of those gadgets that stamps the endorsement on the back of your check, or a kind of asymmetric bathtub toy. A bubbly Weinberg debuted a filmed survey, primly narrated by artist Lorna Simpson, of the new Whit manse, filled with teeny Closes, Rothkos, Kellys and Halleys, in which the open spaces therein resembled those of a cruise ship, inviting thoughts of what Weinberg of the Whitney does (and loves) best and that is Parteeeee!
It is no accident that the new Whit will be smack dab in the middle of the new meat market, the oceans of Carrie Bradshaw wannabees who crowd Gansevoort Street each night with their Marlboros and Jimmy Choos. Since the Piano won’t be tuned until 2015, Adam Weinberg has four long years at Canyon Ranch to preserve himself as well as Kim Cattrall (and perhaps woo her from Kim’s regular MoMA dance partner, Glenn Lowry).
But, one might ask, what about the art? Amidst all the self-congratulatory huzzas at the groundbreaking, in which the same names were thanked ad nauseam (vampirish parks commish Benepe, city planner/socialite Burden, NYC culture czar Kate Levin, whom I just found out is married to Mark di Suvero and who has dumped a bunch of his sculptures on Governor’s Island for the summer), no specific artists were mentioned from the podium, although there were plenty of artists in attendance.
As typified by its Glenn Ligon and Cory Arcangel exhibitions this season, the Whitney is more interested in beating the ignorant masses about the head with dull signifiers (also easily understood after a few Cosmos at its many party events), than ever doing anything truly revolutionary curatorially. The Grand Piano will not tolerate this dry academic approach. The new space demands the constant participatory approach of Beuys, Nitsch, Abramovic and Tinguely, you know: all this space, all this light, what to do?
Best throw in the towel and just run the downtown Whitney as a club called PIANO’S. Adam Weinberg can work the door. He’s a natural!
CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).