in 2012, when i went to my first Whitney Biennial, i didn’t think i’d ever get to go again, so when this NYC trip coincided with the 2014 one, i couldn’t pass it up. when it comes to modern art, i tend toward large-scale pieces and this year was a bit disappointing in terms of quality IMHO compared to 2012 in that respect, but i still had a great time. some highlights:
the free (but limited seating, definitely prebook) performance pieces of the Biennial are definitely worth going to, as i found out last time when i watched a pretty amazing modern dance performance (except for that questionable horse head mask). this year, the event happening on the day i visited was a Spanish-language performance of a seminal piece of American art, Robert Ashley’s early ’80s “television opera” Perfect Lives. because it was written for television(!!?), the work is broken down into episodes (acts); the final four were being performed today, and i saw the first two of those. calling it an opera seems to me to be a misnomer, though. it had more similarities with the speak-sing style of Fred Schneider of The B-52s than say, Wagner or Mozart.
yes, it was in Spanish, and no, my understanding is rudimentary (i have a feeling that applied to most of the intimate audience), but it was still amazing to watch and hear. what got me was there was no formal music written down — i could see their binders and all that the pages contained were lines of text. there were sporadic staves of cheat measures in the keyboardist’s, but that’s about it.
i suppose the inevitable question is whether i liked last night’s avant garde concert more or this Spanish opera that i didn’t really understand. tough question; they’re apples and oranges. i can say, though, that i would definitely like to get more exposure to avant garde music, and i’m ok leaving this as a one-time only thing. something else i learned today was how many times the venue of last night’s concert, The Kitchen, was referenced in showcased pieces. apparently early versions of Perfect Lives were commissioned by and performed there. i feel lucky to have been able to go to a performance at that venue!
i wonder if it’s too ambitious to make going to Biennials a “thing”? they’re so enjoyable and if you’re a modern art fan, i can’t urge you to schedule your next trip to New York City to coincide with one. the next Biennial (2016) will be in their new Meatpacking District building, set to open next year.
p..s give this lady a prize!
Serious kudos to the lady who said out loud, "What the hell is this?!" while walking around a modern art museum. #whitneybiennial
— Jonathan Khoo (@jonk) April 20, 2014