New York

the “1997 Biennial Exhibition”

Whitney Museum of American Art

Several years ago, circa 1990, I attended the opening of a then-fashionable abstract painter, one of whose favored motifs was an Escherian stairway. There seemed to be a lot of repetition going on, and a lot of busy handiwork. The paintings were well received; they sold, and for considerable sums of money (this artist was still “a young artist”). My friends and I didn’t understand them, or rather, we didn’t understand the fuss over them. One of my friends pointed out an art critic known to be very well disposed to this painter’s work and offered to ask him what X’s paintings were about. When he returned, he told us the critic had said they were about infinity, eternity, and obsession. At which point my other friend paused, sipped her drink, and exclaimed, “Oh I get it: They’re about two perfumes and a car.”

The 1997 Whitney Biennial enacts its own little struggle between infinity and perfume.

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