Kara Walker @ The Whitney

“I Will Not Make Anymore Boring Art.”

– by John Baldessari (now housed at the Whitney Museum)


So the other night I went to the Whitney. It was Friday night to be precise, and much to my surprise I arrived there and found a line snaking around the block. It was pay what you can night, but I still paid $5. The Whitney wasn’t nearly as massive as I expected it to be – sure, there are five floors, but it just wasn’t that huge compared to its reputation but I digress.

I was there to see the Kara Walker exhibition, which was so great I almost left in disgust. Not really disgust so much as a sense of being totally overwhelmed with these wild cross-hatches of brutal honesty and over-the-edge irony. It was completely intense, this show, beginning from the moment you get off the elevator and see a stylized silhouette cut-out of a black girl sucking off a white boy. And then there was the cartoon of the black slave girls who take over the plantation and gang-rape the plantation owners with broom sticks. I felt like I’d actually seen that before, either at IAIA or Site Santa Fe, but familiarity didn’t make it any less difficult to watch. I did leave, eventually, driven out by this strange sense of shame after watching this school tour of black teenage girls – say 18-24 year-olds – walk around and react to the show. It was just *odd*, the whole damn thing.

There were safer things to see elsewhere. I really dug Mark Bradford‘s stuff on the first floor. I guess the deal is that this guy roams around his neighborhood pulling flyers off posts and walls and then manipulates them on these giant canvasses. I liked the way they looked and I was especially pleased once I knew what he was doing – I kinda like the way people will map out physical terrain by taking pieces of it home and playing with it. I like that kinda thing because it makes me think it would be something I might do, or could imagine myself doing if I actually managed to play around with visual art things. It’s kinda like collage without any clear context but texture, but I dug that pretty well.

I was heading upstairs for the modernism stuff, (which turned out to include a few de Koonings I hadn’t seen before and a terribly compelling Hopper that I adored but not much else) when the elevator door opened on a lower floor at the “Two Years” exhibition, which showed off the museum’s acquisitions from the past two years. From the corner of my eye I could see across two rooms a drawing of a horse that reminded me of a Jaune Quick-to-See Smith and I hopped off the elevator to satisfy my curiosity. Bam! Wouldn’t you know it? QTS Smith’s “War is Heck” soon filled my view. I guess I saw it at the UNM show a couple of years ago. She is, of course, a New Mexico artist and quite a fine one at that.

Right next door to her painting was a video installation, (only Nauman gets away with calling a television with a VCR attached an “installation”) that I actually recognized also, a Bruce Nauman from the late ’80s called “Green Horses.” Nauman. His content is so easy to understand. Why he’s in all these important collections with what seems to be such uninteresting stuff is the real puzzling mystery. However, he too is a New Mexico artist, as was his producer for this bit, Juliet Myers, (now a curator at Site Santa Fe) and Visulka Studios is in Santa Fe, of course. I sat and watched the whole thing about ten times (it’s about a minute long) and was pleased to have some place to sit.

Food, drink, & transportation

With the notable exception of $50 I spent on a pair of shoes (I walked into a store and a woman told me my Converse hi-tops were UGLY and I wasn’t allowed to leave unless I bought new shoes) and $15 I spent on a gift for my mom, every last dime I’ve spent since I’ve been in NYC has been on food, drink, and transportation, with the bulk of it being on food and drink. I’d like to say I’ve had all kinds of crazy expensive meals, but the fact is that I’ve been eating A LOT of pizza. Lots and lots.

It’s easy and its everywhere. Just today for lunch I had two slices of pizza – one was a slice of pizza rustica margherita, which means that there’s whole patches of sauce showing without any cheese on it, and the cheese in this case was freakin’ fresh mozarella. The crust was paper-thin on this puppy, and the basil was fresh full-leaf pieces. $2 at a place called L’Asso on Elizabeth and Lafayette. Nearby was a place called Pomodoro – home of the vodka slice. Vodka sauce is basically a hyped-up marina with (yes) added vodka and a little pureed action to make it shocking pink. It was heavenly ($3.25) and included one of the special aspects of really nifty slices of pizza – the crunchy crust that also seems to magically melt in your mouth. I can’t explain it, I really can’t.

There’s so much to see and do here – you just have to pick what’s do-able. Below is a picture of the legendary Store Where Rice Pudding is King. I’ve included a picture because after all this pizza, it was enough just to have found the place. Going inside is something I’ll have to do the next time I’m here…

November 12th, 2007 by