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Diary of an Art Star


by Reverend Jen
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As I’ve mentioned before, I hate the Whitney Biennial, as the curators always forget to put me in it. Plus, it's usually about as exciting as watching grass grow.

This year’s installment, which opened on Feb. 28, 2012, had more promise. The Wall Street Occupiers demanded an end to the biennial, and noisy protesters were expected outside the museum. Protest art used to be a big thing, actually.

OWS complains that the show “upholds a system that benefits collectors, trustees and corporations.” It sounds a little like the umbilical cord of gold that I've been trying to attach myself to for so long, sadly without success.

By some mistake, my invite to this year's opening went missing, possibly because the keepers of the guest list realized that I spend most of my time at openings "occupying" glasses of wine. Nevertheless, thanks to the good offices of Artnet Magazine, and the wonderful RuderFinn PR company, I was welcomed at the opening, along with my partner Courtney Fathom Sell, who promised to capture flip-cam footage of the event (which we are posting on Artnet TV).

We arrived early and observed the aforementioned protestors, who were lined up outside carrying signs that pictured Munch's Scream along with text reading, "Sotheby’s = Bad For Art." Next to the protestors stood a massive, inflatable cat choking an inflatable working stiff. One protestor repeatedly blew into a whistle while wearing oversized headphones, making him the "one percent" who wasn't driven mad by the noise.

Keeping an eye on this scenario were New York’s finest fuzz, who luckily weren't brandishing pepper spray. In fact, they looked about as unenthused as the art-lovers lining up to get into the museum. The entire scene was like a post-apocalyptic Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.

Mimicking a "real" reporter, I asked probing questions.

"I'm a total ignoramus," I explained to the group. "Why are you protesting?"

Mannie from Manhattan Teamsters 917 told me Sotheby's was "phasing out" its full-time art handlers and replacing them with "scabs."

"Why is there a giant inflatable cat?" I asked.

"That's a corporate fat cat choking the life out of a working person," he said.

Being a working person whose life is choked out daily and who hasn't had health insurance in 22 years, I was ecstatic when the doors finally opened. I waved goodbye to Mannie and entered the museum's warm, fuzzy interior.

Our first stop was the basement, where wine is served and where, much to my delight, the Whitney had reintroduced cheese. It's been years since the museum has served cheese, and this is a clear sign that America is back on track. Not only cheese, but salsa, nuts, hummus, chicken liver pâté and several varieties of bread. I predict another art-market boom.

After some wine (four glasses), we decided to go upstairs where the art was.

We began on the fifth-floor mezzanine, which the San Francisco artist Lutz Bacher has enlivened with an electric piano that creepily plays music all by itself, just like something you would see on Scooby Doo.

Next door, an artist named Georgia Sagri -- she spearheaded Occupy Artists space a couple of months ago, and must be feeling a little conflicted, with her fellow protestors outside -- has made a "space for book making" full of pillows and painted cardboard doors suspended from the ceiling. A very large empty book sits on a podium, and visitors are encouraged to write in it. Most people simply sign their names, like in a giant guestbook, or write poignant quotes like, "Don't worry, one day you will die."

In a moment of divine inspiration, I wrote, "This show is giving me explosive diarrhea." I can now say my work has been included in the Whitney Biennial.

Meandering down to the fourth floor, we then found a "performance space" devoted to dance -- a fenced off area where a woman in leg-warmers was doing pelvic thrusts and a man in jogging shorts was curled up in the fetal position. It reminded me of the YMCA that I can no longer afford.

Determined to get in on the action, I did my own interpretive dance, crab-walking around the perimeter, an “art piece” that was quickly cut short by a security guard who realized I was not an actual biennial artist. Banished from the fourth floor, Courtney and I returned to the basement for more snacks, where I was able to do a somewhat filthy interpretive dance without interruption.

We then made our way up to the second floor and the Werner Herzog installation, which is a dark room with a group of people sitting transfixed by the images projected on the walls to the sounds of transcendental music. It's definitely the place for stoners.

Blissed out, we meandered up to the third floor, where things got even stranger. Thanks to my low tolerance for wine, my notes are somewhat unclear. One page reads, "package dip, midget, 3rd floor -- art floor, this could be ass, ass crack, unraveling pages" -- proof that the Whitney has inspired a modern “da Vinci code,” if you will.

The effect could be due to the angst-ridden animatronic teenaged mannequin (by Dennis Cooper and Gisele Vienne) brandishing a bloody hand puppet resembling Chucky. "This is vaguely reminiscent of Children of the Corn," I said to Court.

We then made our way to a room installation by an artist named Wu Tsang that appeared to be an exact replica of the dressing room at Wiggles, a Queens strip club where I once worked for approximately two hours. Several videos played on the walls here. A particularly fascinating one featured two transvestites discussing life working at the Silver Platter, a Los Angeles Latin gay bar.

From there we wandered over to Dawn Kasper's gallery, which she has turned into a makeshift studio, crowded with nearly everything she owns. She could have been one of the occupiers outside -- only she was inside. It seemed less like art and more like a brilliant solution to New York's housing crisis.

Paparazzi surrounded her as she went about her regular business of "makin' stuff." At one point she removed her shirt, in what might have been the only sexy moment at this year's show. However, her studio is a mess! If it's not too late, I'd like to offer my services as her biennial maid.

Kasper simply has too much going on there, from a motorized badminton racket that spins in the air to shelves of un-alphabetized books. “I have a short attention span," read one of her “word art" drawings tacked up on the wall. I could totally relate, as it was getting late and all I could think about was a slice of pizza and my comfy bed. Eventually, I left to find both.

“Whitney Biennial 2012,” Mar. 1-May 27, 2012, Whitney Museum of American Art, 945 Madison Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10021

REVEREND JEN is the author of Elf Girl (Simon & Schuster, 2011).