PRINT May 1993


David Rimanelli

ODI PROFANUM VULGUS ET ARCEO,”1 said Horace, and after spending a few hours at the 1993 Whitney Biennial I can’t say I disagree. Elisabeth Sussman and her cohorts have done their level best to bring the noise and discord of contemporary American society into the museum, but as a pallid reactionary, whose taste runs to pretty abstract paintings and mythological scenes à la Poussin, I wasn’t too impressed. And as a more or less full-time and often unwilling member of New York’s squalid vulgus, I think the museum should be about quiet time. With interactive video and audio installations coming at you like so many freight trains, this Biennial exhibition is oddly reminiscent of the Boston Museum of Science, but less informative. Weary of hectoring voices and blinking lights, I longed for the sepulchral silence of the Rothko Chapel.

Granted, some of it was pretty amusing. My favorite work had to be Shu Lea Cheang’s installation, Channels of Desire, 1992, which B Ruby Rich describes in the Biennial catalogue as “a revisionist porno parlor” in which “women of color are in charge, and the museum patron, usually so well served by class position, must pay.” And pay and pay and pay. Well, folks, it’s true, as a lady who lunches, my vaunted class position did need some undermining, so Cheang’s handy hookups to bell hooks et al. for confessional discourses on race and sexuality were nothing if not instructive. On the other hand, this PC porn pavilion provides a fitting motto for the ’93 Biennial as a whole: All Talk and No Action.

David RimaneIli is a writer who lives in New York.



1. I hate the common herd of man and keep them afar.