We are two part-time academics. Ellen teaches in the English department and Jim in the IT program at George Mason University.

New York Journal (3): The Whitney Biennial & Art-o-matic · 28 April 08

Saturday afternoon, we went to the Whitney. I do not want to (much) criticize the museum. It has nice pieces: I especially like Ben Shahn’s Sacco and Vanzetti, the sharp faces of the undertakers; they have some very good Hoppers. But the Biennial is, I think, a misguided effort. DC’s Art-o-matic is a better view into contemporary art.

Theodore Sturgeon was once asked how he could like science fiction. Ninety percent of it was crap. He replied, what’s now called Sturgeon’s Law, “Ninety percent of everything is crap.” One can quibble about the exact quantification, but it’s fair to apply Sturgeon’s Law to almost any creative activity. Roughly (over?) 90% of contemporary art, then, will be crap. Crucially, curators are unable to separate the good from the bad; they’re too close. The curator(s) for the Biennial select from the vast flow of art created in the last two years, but their selection is, inevitably, flawed: they reject more good art than they select; they accept more bad art than they reject. That’s the case for all curatorial decisions, of course. But over time mistakes are recognized and relegated to the basement. Displays of contemporary art, however, haven’t had that time. The curators’ mistakes are on the wall (or filling the room—contemporary art needs its space). Art-o-matic, by eschewing selection, allows some good art to enter (along with much bad). It has room to do that. It’s occupying nine floors of an office building this year to display the work of DC-based artists. The Biennial has only four floors of a not terribly large museum and casts a national net. I did not like anything at the Biennial. I expect to find some things to like at Art-o-matic.


Posted by: Jim

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  1. PS. on comments. Jim has discovered we can moderate comments on this software. That is, everyone can make a comment but comments will not appear until either he or I read them. This will erase all spam. So please to send comments in the usual way.
    Elinor    Apr 29, 1:35pm    #
  2. Yay comments! Too bad the about the art things.
    ibmiller    Apr 29, 7:46pm    #
  3. Is there nothing in the arts that you are unaware of. Now she quotes Sturgeon’s Law! I didn’t realise you were aware of this, but as a one time SF fan, and now still reading an occasional Steampunk/Cyberpunk novel I was, so I’m impressed, yet again. LOL Seriously, Sturgeon was right. I hate the pretentious, poor 90%, but isn’t the 10% so worth the effort. Thanks for telling us about the weekend.

    Clare Shepherd    Apr 30, 3:02pm    #

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