These days, everyone is spending a lot of time in thrift shops, looking for clothes and shoes, a bad book for a quarter, pots and pans for the kitchen. I bought a kitschy wood statue of a mountain man as a present for a friend on the Lower East Side last week. Of course, the economic slide means that people are holding onto stuff they otherwise would have donated to the Salvation Army in years past, so that, between, the rising demand of the knickknack seekers and the new found thriftiness of potential donors, the pickings are slimmer.
Thus, I give you Francesco Bonami’s 2010 Whitney Biennial. It is a biennial of scarcity: just 55 artists, allowed to show just one piece each, with like artistic media grouped together. It is a biennial with little visual pop and stimulus, reminiscent of the Arte Povera curations done in the late 1980s by Tricia Collins and Richard Milazzo. It is a biennial that will often look like a thrift shop, in Jessica Jackson Hutchins’ sofas which ooze ceramics and David Adamo’s baseball bats, wood clippings and other bric-a-brac.
Low-rent visual impact mixed with conceptualism in a minor key shall reign, in James Casebere’s flooding photographs, Storm Tharp’s reductive visual jokes, Michael Asher’s displacement of common objects and Sarah Crowner’s Leon Polk Smith-like craft abstractions. A couple of big names are here: Charles Ray, who is Hammacher Schlemmer (thrift store for the rich) and George Condo (all those bad paintings you almost wanted to buy at the Opera Guild Thrift on 23rd Street).
Most happily, the Whit’s 2010 Biennial includes an underappreciated friend or two whom you will be happy for in the spirit of Obama. In my case, they are Rebecca Quaytman, whom I exhibited in my East Village space back in 1990, and the late Colin DeLand’s former right-hand man Danny McDonald. Less happily, this is a biennial conservative critics should adore, as much of the work will resemble Verne Dawson’s cute birds and ironic open spaces, and there will be a strong temporary decorative element out of that awful kitschmeister who just snagged the Turner Prize.
I think Brancesco Bobami is kind of a snoot and my ideal biennial would have been an overarching celebration of world possibilities on the order of President Obama’s terrific speech in Oslo yesterday, but, so what? The new Whitfest is that guy tossing cans into a shopping cart while whistling outside your window at four in the morning on a cold winter’s night. If he’s feeling positive, then so should we.
CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).