Vital Signs

The End of Art

Reflections on the 1989 Whitney Biennial of American Art

"Among the Neo-Minimalists Liz Larner makes a strangely regular tapestry out of human eyelashes. The team of Kate Ericson and Mel Ziegler compares bottles of powdered pigment. Meg Webster makes a big low-lying circle out of nothing but dirt; a second sculpture populates soil with plants, stones, and running water. There's a feeling in this work—some of which is quite affecting—that you can go home again, and that home is the early 1970's."

Thus The New York Times on the 1989 Whitney Museum of American Art's biennial. Another entrant to this show looked like a hank of hair hanging from the wall, though it might have been some escaped asbestos stuffing. Even the Metropolitan Museum became indignant when a life-sized bronze of Zeus which they owned, and had lent, appeared adorned by a Hispanic artist with a TV monitor around the loins, a baseball bat in the right hand, and in his left a plexiglass screen showing images of the homeless washing windshields, while the television screened scenes of Wall Street. Francisco Torres, the artist in question, answered that "his" Zeus was "hindered by the money and Wall Street materialism that is represented on the monitor." His was "appropriation art." Some might want to call it "desecration art."

One could...

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