new-york

Banks Violette

Whitney Museum of American Art

In a single, melancholic afternoon, I recently saw Gus Van Sant’s latest film Last Days, and the Robert Smithson and Banks Violette exhibitions at the Whitney Museum of American Art. Though unplanned, the itinerary made sense: Each presentation was haunted by the theme of early death, a fate that has long been a trigger for cultish devotion. As Shelley wrote after Keats died at twenty-five: “He is secure, and now can never mourn / A heart grown cold, a head grown grey in vain.” Or, in the words of Neil Young, quoted memorably by Kurt Cobain in his suicide note: “It’s better to burn out than to fade away.”

Burning out, in grand, theatrical fashion, is (both literally and figuratively) the overarching subject of Violette’s first and much-anticipated commission from a museum. Sparkling like moonlit snow, the fragmented skeleton of a torched gothic church cast in salt stands on a glossy black,

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