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                         The  Whitney Biennial 2010: American Artifice

Rachel Smith Althof

The 2010 Whitney Biennial is an exhibition of artifice.  Artifice, derived from the Latin words Ars (art) and Facere (to do or to make) is art.  Does this
make art artificial?  Is art honest, or is it deceitful?  Through art, do we confront reality or do we escape it?  Is art something we do or something we
make?  The Biennial explores many of the paradoxes in contemporary art.

A play off of the Joseph Beuys’s performance of similar name, The Bruce High Quality Foundation’s We Like America and America Likes Us (2010)
initially draws in viewers with sheer size and volume.  The Bruce High Quality Foundation is a collective of anonymous artists based in Brooklyn, based
on a fictional social sculptor named Bruce High Quality.  Is art honest or deceitful?  

The Cadillac Miller-Meteor is vehicle for the action between viewer and video.  The video is shown through the windshield, forcing viewers to confront
the bright headlights to watch the video.  “We drunk-dialed America to hear what we were thinking,” the video exclaims while flipping through a video
montage of culturally iconic American images, including one of Ecto-1, the Miller-Meteor in the movie Ghostbusters.  Through art, do we confront reality
or escape it?

In Collecting Biennials, a sort of retrospective of artists who participated in past Biennials, Zoe Leonard’s The Fae Richards Photo Archive directly
addresses artifice by crafting an archival photo-history of an imaginary African-American Hollywood actress.  When viewing photo albums, I often find
myself deconstructing the photo-history: When was this photo taken?  How can I tell?  Why did they take this photo?  Why was this photo chosen to be
in the album?  What similar photos might have been omitted?  What story does this album tell?  Leonard’s overt intentionality when constructing this
narrative made this seemingly simple photo-history very compelling.  Does this make art artificial?

Kate Gilmore’s Standing Here (2010) is a powerful statement on women in the professional world.  The video shows Gilmore crawling into a plaster
column, and then kicking and punching her way out.  However, she can’t punch and kick her way straight through, so she uses her hands and feet to
create holds to climb her way out.  As she climbs onto the lower holds just made, she must balance to create new holds higher in the column.  All while
maintaining her balance and likely dealing with a growing fear of an increasingly dangerous fall.  The video humbly continues at a pace fast enough to
keep focused attention on Gilmore’s actions, but slow enough to allow for metaphorical meandering.  The partially decimated column proudly stands in
the gallery, confronting the video of its own demise.  Is art something we do or something we make?

As a finale to the Biennial, Michael Asher’s piece comes to The Whitney on May 26, 2010.  His work is for The Whitney to stay open twenty hours a day
for three days straight.  This is, quite possibly, the most honest work of the show.