The Whitney Museum is the museum of American Art. The Whitney Biennial then is nothing less than America’s show—a curatorial celebration of now: the artists, the key pieces, the strategies, the influences, the rising stars and the perennial favorites. This year the Biennial tried a new approach to composing this grand collection. Rather than a team of curators working together to gather and assemble the works, three curators were chosen to work independently, each tackling a separate floor. Stuart Comer, chief curator of media and performance art at MOMA; Anthony Elms, associate curator at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Philadelphia; and Michelle Grabner, artist and Professor in the Painting and Drawing Department at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago each brought their own unique perspectives the Biennial, unencumbered by compromise or collaboration.
However, the success of this new approach is less firmly decided. Each floor contained a lofty theme and curatorial statement of purpose, however the work that filled the familiar galleries of the Whitney seemed chosen and arranged with little regard to any specific criteria, much less the evocation of precise premises. Indeed, the entire museum was veritably stuffed with art. Often the audience was barely able to view a painting without backing into a sculpture placed only a few feet away. From wall text to floor layout, the exhibition design was uncomfortably reminiscent of the sales floors of the Armory show.
Nevertheless, among this disorganization, the quality of the work was still breathtaking. The video pieces stood out this year, including Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Véréna Paravel’s 2012 film Leviathan, a beautifully disturbing ethnographic investigation into the fishing industry. Matter of fact, starkly documentarian, and unbelievably generous, diving out of the cluttered brightness of the Whitney and into the darkness felt like immersing oneself in a different world altogether.
One of the best parts of spending this semester in the city is the access to lectures, exhibitions, and events happening at the great architecture and art institutions around the city. A couple of weeks ago, The New School hosted a lecture by Bjarke Ingels, of the world-renowned architecture firm BIG (Bjarke Ingels Group) and a few of the AAP NYC Masters students attended. Almost every architect or architecture student you meet has heard of Bjarke Ingels, but opinions of him are extremely polarized. Each person, it seems, has a strongly formulated opinion of his work, and of him. To be honest, I thought I had a clear opinion as well, and so I saw the lecture as an opportunity to give him a chance to defend himself, so to speak, against this opinion (of which he knows nothing and cares even less, I’m sure). Listening to the way in which he spoke about his firm, about his work, and about his philosophies about architecture, proved to be nothing short of impressive. I may not agree with all of his aesthetic judgments (example: Superkilen, a park in Copenhagen), but I greatly admire his stance on social issues and the idea that architecture is a way in which people can engage in and address these issues (example: Superkilen).
The Master of Architecture studio taught by the three principals of the firm Bade Stageberg Cox had its midterm review last week. (quick review: this group is designing a branch library for Williamsburg in Brooklyn). For students, this was a chance to assimilate the ideas and processes that they had been exploring to this point and to present their work to fresh and highly experienced eyes – guest critics. The guest critics were: Andrew Benner (architect + studio critic at Yale), Martin Finio (architect + studio critic at Yale), Justin Korhammer (architect + studio critic at PennDesign), and Tina Manis (architect), in addition to our studio faculty, Timothy Bade, Martin Cox, and Jane Stageberg.
Stuart Pidcock presenting his work to the critics
(photo by Luke Erickson)
Each student was given a bit less than half an hour to present their work – in the form of printed drawings and physical models – and to engage with the critics in a discussion of concept and ideas about the library as well as consideration of site conditions and integration of building systems. One student addressed the project using the site’s history as a rail yard for a formal investigation. Another focused on the idea of a story book and the user’s ability to choose his or her own story within the building. Twelve different approaches to the same problem on the same site – it will be exciting to see how the projects continue to develop.
March welcomed the first frost-free days, a new project in studio to work on, and arguably the biggest week of the year for art in New York City. Armory Arts Week, from March 6th through 9th officially consists of the Armory Show in Piers 92 and 94. In addition to the cavernous space of the piers which houses booths of contemporary and Modern art, Armory week extends itself throughout the city with a range of associated exhibitions and arts events. One of these semi-affiliated exhibitions is The Independent Art Fair—an offshoot of the Armory designed to showcase galleries and nonprofit spaces through a more curatorial and less market driven perspective. The Independent was an interesting departure from the somewhat fatiguing commercialism of The Armory. Headed by gallerists Elizabeth Dee and Darren Flook and in collaboration with creative adviser and director of White Columns gallery, Mathew Higgs, it was more intimate and featured artworks that may have been overlooked in the Armory.
We visited the Armory Show together as a class when it opened on March 6th. Accompanied by professors Jane Benson and Jane Farver as our guides, we wound our way through endless booths and even got the chance to meet a few of the artists and curators along the way. The Armory show was a spectacle of equal parts giddy wonder and smothering disillusionment. The truth is art fairs are not amazing venues for viewing art. In contrast to the gallery and museum settings most of us are used to experiencing, there is a disheartening department store feeling in which paintings are stacked from floor to ceiling with little consideration of content or form and carted off by the highest bidder. However, this is the art world in which we exist today and I think it was an amazing experience and opportunity as an aspiring artist to see another, very real side of what it means to create work for an increasingly global art market.
The second studio of second-year Masters of Architecture students is being taught by Marc Tsurumaki of LTL Architects. This studio requires a design for a site situated along the Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn, directly adjacent to the Culver Viaduct and the Smith and 9th Street subway platform. As an integrated design studio, the goal is to take students through all the aspects of architectural design – from conceptual idea to the networking of systems (structural, mechanical, etc.) within the design. In simpler terms, the goal is to create an architectural design in which the integration of the building systems augments the architectural concept, rather than simply coexisting abstractly beside it. The studio thus stresses the complex and profound interaction of use values, environmental consideration, technological systems, site conditions, and economics and their influence on the architectural practice. One of that studio’s students, Lucas Greco, shares: “We are currently working through initial designs of an Urban Maker Lab and Market. The challenges include rectifying the needs of the project brief with the specificities of the machinery, material flows, public engagement, and site-unique conditions.” Students are given the opportunity to more specifically define the program of their design based on their individual analysis and on ideas about the demands for fabrication space in the emerging “Brooklyn Maker” culture. Midterm review for the LTL studio is quickly approaching and designs are being strategically formulated and specified – we will share an update and student work following the review.
Lucas Greco and Nick DeMaio presenting their work during a critique.