Exhibit of the week: Singular Visions

The Whitney’s latest show consists of just 12 works, each displayed in its own room.

Whitney Museum of American Art

New York

The Whitney’s latest show is a mind-blowing referendum on the very act of viewing art, said Jerry Saltz in New York. The exhibition consists of just 12 works, all pieces from the museum’s permanent collection, and each is displayed in its own room. The novel setup fosters complete immersion, and that intimacy proved a revelation. “I found myself surrendering to the art,” spending more time with each piece, “musing about concepts and materials and love, life, and death.” Reconsidering an untitled 1970 Eva Hesse sculpture in this isolated context, “I suddenly realized that what Hesse was doing was essentially the same as what Jackson Pollock was doing with his drip paintings: employing laws of nature while breaking away from geometry and the body, and radically redefining beauty.” Go with an open mind and leave “enriched by art” and by ace curators “who are thrillingly sidestepping orthodoxy.”

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If only they’d dodged heavy-handed hermeneutics, said Jennifer Eberhart in Examiner.com. Letting viewers “slow down and enjoy art” is a noble proposition—so long as you don’t micromanage the process. Here, for instance, one effusive wall placard claims that James Rosenquist’s mural-sized House of Fire II (1982) is full of “menace,” that it “leaves the viewer unnerved.” Why not trust the art, and leave the reaction to the viewer? To grasp the aching poignancy of a work like Edward Kienholz’s The Wait (1964–65), no commentary is required. We’re confronted with a full-scale reproduction of “a decrepit living room, where a decayed-looking woman made of cow bones rests in wait for a love who will never come, her parakeet, a live bird, chirping merrily beside her in a cage.” Less talk, sometimes, is more.

But less, sometimes, is just less, said Karen Rosenberg in The New York Times. As “refreshing” as this format is, not every work here benefits from the extra breathing room afforded by “this spare, Chelsea-gallery-like presentation.” Does it really make sense to “sequester” a quick-study work like Tom Wesselmann’s sprawling 1964 collage painting of a glass of milk, a sandwich, and cigarettes? “Nothing about it demands a sustained, one-to-one engagement.” Other works, like Ree Morton’s Signs of Love (1977), have lost their expressive oomph: What seemed edgy back in 1977 looks, some 30 years later, “depressingly like a Hallmark valentine.” When you have only 12 works with which to make your curatorial case, there’s not really any room for duds.

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