PRINT December 1995

Dan Cameron


Deciding that inclusiveness was the best way to handle the often-elusive subject matter of “IN A DIFFERENT LIGHT,” cocurators Nayland Blake and Lawrence Rinder turned a skewered look at the gay and lesbian impact on visual culture into a semiotic free-for-all, filling the University Art Museum in Berkeley, California, with more than 200 objects. Nothing was sacred, which meant that little was excluded: paintings, sculpture, and photography hung cheek by jowl with record covers, small-press publications, and gay propaganda, as well as bits of paraphernalia whose relationship to the subject was lost on more than a few viewers. Still, by wallowing in the muddlement caused by the very notion of gay culture, the organizers made what could have been a pedantic exercise into something like an intercultural romp. Part of their argument was that we cannot identify and celebrate a gay visibility in high art until we have first dealt with the meaning of a gay presence at the level of popular culture. By heightening the viewer’s awareness that gay culture has often infiltrated the rest of society through myriad back-door routes, the exhibition made an unexpectedly strong case for gay men and lesbians being at the forefront of the broader changes in cultural definitions—from “family values” to political correctness—in the ’90s.


Despite a handful of stunning contributions by individual artists (Stan Douglas, Gabriel Orozco, Rirkrit Tiravanija), the WHITNEY BIENNIAL was one of the most disturbing abuses of curatorial privilege in living memory. Guest curator Klaus Kertess, who is apparently more comfortable working in intimate spaces, completely miscalculated the size of the Whitney’s galleries and wound up with an overcrowded rummage sale, in which the usual New York suspects (the show was dubbed “The Dinner Party” even before it had opened) were awkwardly contrasted with a slightly more adventurous grouping of out-of-towners. Kertess’ reliance on “theme” rooms (landscapes here, reductivist abstractions over there) took the wind out of a large number of artists’ sails, and his use of angled walls to create triangular and oblong spaces was incredibly ham-handed. The press was doubly guilty for letting Kertess get away with it, although a few observers took the trouble to point out that Elisabeth Sussman (1993 curator) and Lisa Phillips (1997 curator-to-be) had every reason to sigh with relief.

Dan Cameron is senior curator at The New Museum in New York.