“The world is filled to suffocating. Man has placed his token on every stone. Every word, every image, is leased and mortgaged. And we note that the picture is but a space in which a variety of images, not of them original, blend and clash. A picture is a tissue of quotations drawn from the innumerable centers of culture. Similar to those eternal copyists Bouvard and Pechuchet, we indicate the profound ridiculousness that is precisely the truth of painting. We can only imitate a gesture that is always anterior, never original. Succeeding the painter, plagiarist no longer bears within him passions, humors, feelings, impressions, but rather this immense encyclopedia from which he draws. The viewer is the tablet on which all quotations that make a painting are inscribed without any of them being lost. A painting’s meaning lies not in its origin, but in its destination. The birth of the viewer must be at the cost of the painter.” [Sherry Levine First Statement]
“Unusually egalitarian in the distribution of its favors, the show includes more women than ever before (more than one-third) and a high number of artists who have worked for years without substantial recognition. It seems less indebted to the dictates of a few powerful galleries than in years past. It doesn’t skimp on its enthusiasm for what might be called the Neo-Minimalist revival, and is loaded with work that the general public might find accessible only after consulting wall labels or the catalogue…
In this regard, and in others, the new works of Sherrie Levine, ensconced high on a prominent wall on the Whitney’s fourth floor, are pertinent. They aren’t her best paintings, but their identical image, taken from George Hermann’s ”Krazy Kat,” gains force in this context. It depicts an ostrich with his head characteristically out of sight, stuck not in sand but in a bucket on wheels, guaranteeing a permanent yet mobile state of oblivion – a fitting symbol for the entire exhibition.” [Roberta Smith on the 1989 Biennial]
Elsewhere in the biennial the aura of the handmade object shone as brightly as ever. The sculpture of Saint Clair Cemin draws historically from Art Nouveau and biographically from a Brazilian childhood in surroundings that were both Victorian and rustic.” I work with the notions of grotesque and beautiful, and see how you can articulate those notions into one unity. I think the understanding of the origins and understanding of the the historical background of the work gives a certain sense of complicity between the viewer and the artist. But I think this sense of complicity and proximity to the work is as good as a sense of estrangement and alienation from the work. It’s not necessarily the best thing. It’s just one possibility. I’ll give an example. I saw a show recently and there was a whole explanation about the show. And the explanation made it more poor, actually. The show was much more interesting when I was trying to figure it out myself.” [Saint Clair Cemin 1988 Whitney Biennial]
In the early ’70s there were a number of people who were putting art work on the ceiling, around the room, growing from the floor up, working from the top down, using materials directly. That was an influence. And I began to go to museums more. And the Bykert Gallery, which was so hot... I remember Julian Schnabel, whose work I saw way early on, before he had a gallery. I was sort of shocked, but I never forgot the experience of seeing those works. They were huge, very tall. Slowly, I began to understand what he was doing, just in terms of scale and energy. And Joel Shapiro, whose work I always paid attention to, once gave me great advice, “Don’t edit in advance.”
Paula Cooper Gallery was the place to look at new art. I began to appreciate Alex Katz’s paintings, when I went back to using a brush. And the Italians came, and the Germans came, and a there was a lot more kinds of content, from all over the place, all over the world, ranging from Clemente to Keifer. A lot of people began to paint again, when painting was supposed to be dead. The amount of energy in the ’80s was a big deal. [Martha Diamond in conversation with Ilka Scobie]
“Labor intensity of the most ostentatious kind or byzantine technical wizardry now stoke an indiscriminate marketplace with a wealth of seductive, sometimes beautiful, sometimes merely fussy works of art whose surfaces are more fetishized, more lavished with special effects that anything seen since the days of Gustave Moreau. Today’s art buyers are hardly adverse to the material signifiers of virtuosity, or anyway of “hard work.” And as the curators of this Biennial cautioned, the marketplace has the power to influence artistic output. All of which makes me wonder all over again why they chose this path of least resistance.
The marketplace these curators love and hate also regularly induces artists to exhibit works that under different economic circumstances might never have left their studios. In this society, you take what you’re given. And that, I suppose, is the key to another contradiction in this year’s Biennial. As emphatic as its organizers claimed to be about searching for significant new art, this survey contained so much that was familiar and/or indifferent; even, in some cases, by artists who had done better work during the previous two years. Is it enough to say that institutions like the Whitney are now as abject in their relationships to certain contemporary dealers as your average art-buying millionaire? Somehow I don’t think so.” [David Deitcher on the 1989 Biennial]