PRINT May 1993


Glenn O'Brien

WHEN I SHOWED UP at the Whitney Biennial they handed me an admission button that said “I CAN’T IMAGINE EVER WANTING TO BE WHITE,” a badge that would presumably prevent me from being ejected by guards, as long as I didn’t destroy any of the works on display. No fucking way was I going to put that on, so I took my chances with the guards and was careful not to destroy any work.

Actually I didn’t feel like destroying any of the work that I saw. I did feel like sitting down in Pepón Osorio’s fabulous Puerto Rican apartment crime-scene but I wouldn't cross the police crime-scene tape. I did feel like touching Sue Williams’ large splotch of simulated vomit but I observed a guard warning a woman not to touch it so I too refrained. One piece, Donald Moffett's bed sheet with hole, had been removed, presumably for repair, and I wondered if some Orthodox Jew had maybe trashed it.

I found the show contained much that was trite, half baked, pretentious, shrill, lame, and dishonest. But nothing really pissed me off all that much, although I did feel like pissing in the reading room, not out of a pressing need to urinate, but, I suppose, to leave my mark in the world of critical thought. Nothing else did much more than superficially annoy me.

There was loads to enjoy, like Charles Ray’s Firetruck, 1992–93, and handily sized nuclear family, Lari Pittman’s paintings, Gary Simmons’ Lineup, 1992–93, and Moffett's bowling balls. Plenty that was stimulating, like Allan Sekula’s Fish Story, 1992–93, and Loaves and Fishes, 1992. Plenty that amused me, like Robert Gober’s recycled New York Times and that gnarly lesbo version of Adam 12 by the Wooster Group. But as a studly, womanizing, ofay, honkey, mick dude, I did feel somewhat underrepresented. And only at Matthew Barney’s video installation did I, me, and myself feel any genuine excitement. This triptych feature from satyr city was cool and mindblowing. I didn’t even have to think about whether it was right or wrong. It was art, way art. I think people should make more of it.

Watching superb cavorting man beasts was as much fun as watching Abel Ferrara movie. And the best part was that I identified with those incredible alien goat guys. I especially dug them wrestling in a white limo traversing the bridges and tunnnels of Fun City. I found it a real turn-on, even though the closest I come to AC/DC is knowing the words to “Highway to Hell.”

In one segment one horny satyr mugs another with special horn-bending wrenches as both victim and perpetrator achieve a cheap but powerful ecstasy. I thought about how satyr horns and satanic horns represent the pleasure pathways of the brain, which curve upward shooting god food endorphins up, up from the prehistoric nether regions of the medulla, up through the more sophisticated behavioral nexi of the frontal lobes, up into the part of the brain where heaven is located. I thought, Not only is this extra-strength, fast-acting, long-lasting art. This describes the job of the artist with passion and precision! Finally, here is something I can sink my fangs into and wrap my tail around. Here’s a work that is not only about power, as were all the works in the show, but is powerful, is power.

Fine art isn’t what it used to be because the competition has digital, wide screen, Sen-surround, and a million watts of power on its side. Matthew Barney competes not only in the art world but in the world at large because he’s got imagination and production values. And to communicate powerfully in today’s environment you have to have production values and special effects to wow ’em.

Thanks to Matthew Barney the Whitney Biennial truly has something for everyone. I can imagine wanting to be furry. Imagine.

Glenn O'Brien