IF THE PLANET doesn’t explode first, the Whitney Biennial, the New Museum’s triennial, and MoMA PS1’s “Greater New York” quintennial will coincide in the year 2030. This year, however, the intervals separating the three were long enough not to complicate the production logistics of artists who'd been selected for more than one, but short enough that an interested public might notice which artists were. We can congratulate Tauba Auerbach for making all three, wonder how Emily Roysdon got away with showing iterations of the same project at two, and so on. As for the curators of “Greater New York,” they aimed to differentiate their opus from, of all things, an art fair. “We don’t have a lot of money, but we have a lot of space,” MoMA PS1 director Klaus Biesenbach told the press Thursday morning. “So we can offer each artist their own room.” Like Volta.
Perhaps the quintennial’s greater advantage over trade shows is time —that luxurious four-month run—and Biesenbach and cocurators Connie Butler and Neville Wakefield exploited it by inviting the artists to make PS1 their second studio for the show’s duration. At Thursday night’s opening, Ryan McNamara, who will be taking dance lessons in the galleries, expressed hope that more people would take the curators up on the invitation: “I’ll need someone to have lunch with.” Aki Sasamoto said she planned to spend some time with her installation in the boiler room—as soon as she finishes her last five performances at the Whitney.
In all fairness, there are a few aspects that make this exhibition feel truly distinctive (and it does present a good share of underexposed artists, notably Mariah Robertson, who printed a hazy catalogue of her own photography on a hundred-foot stretch of metallic paper that spills from ceiling to floor in voluptuous folds). For one thing, it’s the gayest show ever, at least among major periodic group exhibitions, where gays are always present, of course, but as “two or three tokens,” as one artist put it, not counting the discreet. Quite a few revelers on the museum’s patio couldn’t help but comment on the pervasive queerness, from Nico Muhly’s elevator music (if that sounds like a jab, it’s not mine—his piece is piped into the elevator) to A. L. Steiner’s wallpaper-cum–photo diary and Sharon Hayes’s balloon-strewn videos of election-year protests. “I’ve never owned gayness like this before,” Conrad Ventur said of his work, three YouTube-sourced versions of a single Shirley Bassey song projected through spinning colored crystals. The current “Greater New York” also seems like the darkest show, as in least white, of its category. Not that I tried to quantify the impression by playing guessing games with the artists’ names—the exhibition’s mood avoids the challenge of identity politics as much as post-identity denial; it discourages precise counts. Even renowned feminist calculator Jerry Saltz, when asked about the percentage of women artists, said: “Good . . . Seems about fortyish.”
When the vernissage guests finally, reluctantly obliged security and abandoned the premises half an hour after the official 8:30 PM closing time, they moved in packs two blocks west to the unofficial afterparty at LIC Bar—but many retreated upon realizing that at the bar, as at PS1, alcohol abounded but food was scarce. (“They have nothing!” Biesenbach said as he exited. “I hate them.”) Inside, the din of chatter barely muzzled an amplified falsetto squeal that made Kalup Linzy wonder if his work had been smuggled from the museum to the bar’s sound system. But it was just Thursday night trivia. Once the words became discernible, I thought the questions for neighborhood know-it-alls weirdly bracketed the evening, in conjunction with Ben Coonley’s PowerPoint parody of the weak brainteasers aired at multiplexes before features, which had been screened earlier in PS1’s new basement cinema in anticipation of the program that would kick off there a week later. One slide posed a “structural/materialist anagram”: TREEP DIALG. “Greater New York,” another slide boasted. “A quinquennial celebration of local talent.”