PICA Visual Art Program Director Kristan Kennedy just returned from a two-week blitz of the Whitney Biennial and Armory Art Fair. Read on for the first of her reports:
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This is what my eye looked like when I landed in New York. If this eye is a window, then you would be looking out onto a psychic landscape scattered with detritus from the week prior. It was time to shake off any residue and move on. I had an opening to attend.
 
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When I come to NY I always stay with family. I was born and raised in Brooklyn and I am lucky to have a free place to lay my head. Tonight, however, I have decided to splurge and spend the night at the Ace Hotel. I am grateful for this spare, but plush limbo-land where I can clear my head and get gussied up. The windows at the Hotel perfectly frame little bits of the buildings across the way, that square starts to blur and I can feel a nap coming on. 
 
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Post nap and room service, my dear friend Topher Sinkinson and I waffle between feeling excited and anxious about the opening. We feel immense amounts of pressure about what we are wearing, which seems silly, but, you have to figure people are going to be puttin’ on the ritz tonight. I am not feeling so ritzy, although perhaps the photo suggests otherwise. 
 
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Storm Tharp; Dolores; 2010; ink, gouache, colored pencil, graphite, charcoal and fabric dye on paper. 
 
Upon entering the Whitney we spy a gaggle of Portland peeps, and we form one undulating, amoeba-like formation for the rest of the night, picking up other cohorts along the way. None of this was planned, but there is a fair amount of Portland pride happening in the Whitney tonight, as both Storm Tharp and Jessica Jackson Hutchins are part of the show. My photos are limited; as the security is fierce you will have to troll Flickr for covert pics.
My first impression is this: the show feels sparse, calm, pretty. I am used to being visually assaulted by the Whitney Biennial, and I cannot remember a time when I can see more wall than art. This is completely disarming. I can see everything clearly, in fact someone in our caravan says to me along the way, “You are actually looking at the art” to which I replied, ” I know, weird, right?” Not so weird if you think about it (my job, in fact, is as an artist/curator/friend), but at these kinds of massive openings it is a rare occurrence. In fact, at every opening I have been to since the dawn of time, half of the conversations are taken up by people talking about how they “have to come back”.


My second impressions are that there is a lot of photography and objects are well-made.The craft/skill is evident. I also want to completely re-hang everything. There are enough of us to pick up Jessica’s sculpture and carry it up to the top floor; there are enough of us to kick down some of these little walls Kate Gilmore style.
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Kate Gilmore
Storm Tharp’s drawings are in a small room together, the four of them facing each other like character’s at a crazy dinner party. You cannot help but have your breath taken away when you see this quartet. When I found out Storm would be in the show, I thought to myself – his work will look like no other. Now, having seen the show, I know this to be true.
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Storm Tharp; Pigeon (after Shunsen); 2010; ink, gouache, colored pencil, graphite, charcoal and fabric dye on paper.
Fashion and the potential for murder, dinner, or both. Bring on the knife!
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Jane Bebee of PDX Contemporary Art and Spencer Bebee . Storm Tharp and Friends
Jane unconsciously wore a dress with the same gradation as Tharp’s drawing, Spencer looks dashing in a bow tie, as does the artist.
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Storm Tharp; Miss Cloud; 2010; ink, gouache, colored pencil, graphite, on paper.
I am in love with Miss Cloud and her ink-spill bonnet (or afro) and her wide grin and lush fur collar. She looks so menacing yet celebratory.
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I run into TBA:09 charmer Antoine Catala and his BFF who had just flown in from abroad. This would be a theme tonight, friendship won out over opening posturing all night long. Perhaps with the show lacking in the hot air of past biennials, it had lost some hipness but had gained some authenticity. By the way, no need to put on the ritz just cause we are all in the big city: while some girls and boys could not resist putting on their finery most were just casually chic, and moreover, they drink bad wine out of plastic cups here, too.
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Jon Hart and Larry Bamburg (TBA:07) share a gentleman’s handshake.
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Matthew Day Jackson (TBA:06), Jenny Moore and Laura Seymour.
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Pete Kreider (TBA:08), Beth Campbell (TBA:06) and friend.
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Storm Tharp (TBA:10) + Jessica Jackson Hutchins (TBA:10) pose for New York Times Legend Bill Cunningham.
Bill Cunningham spies Storm in tails and a bow tie and Jessica in elbow length gloves and deems them fit for his camera’s friendly assault – watching Cunningham would make you think the term “shoot from the hip” was born from his quick draw technique. I have never seen such a thing. His arms flew up from the sides and then there was a lightning click n’ pop. The whole time he remained in the same slightly-bent-at-the-knees stance, his eyes glittering and smile flashing.
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I am not sure Cunningham caught this woman’s image that night, but she was a sight! Red leather suit and emerald green lace fingerless gloves, feathered hat and ruffled blouse.
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Bad picture of a beautiful moment: Laurel Gitlen and Jessica Jackson Hutchins discussing the show looking like two it girls at the counter of a soda fountain.
The night ended at Great Jones Cafe with a mix of Portland expats and Portland hommies. It felt good to skip the fancy after-party and just celebrate home-style: unfettered, unpretentious and with lots of good conversation and laughter.
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Back at the scene of several room service crimes. I cannot believe we were in the room only a few minutes and we had left it in shambles. Oh well, those rumpled sheets are calling my name. ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ
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I wake up to this view. Although this shop sells crap barrettes and plastic rhinestone bits, I would rather think that it sells my eternity.
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This reminds me of Antoine Catala’s portraits.
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And this is how I feel right about now.
Topher and I pounded the pavement the next day, and took a wee break before meeting up at Joe’s pub for OUR HIT PARADE
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TBA alums Kenny Mellman, Bridgett Everett and Neal Medlyn looking like pop stars in the poster for their pop song revue.
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OH! Former PICA darling Jorg was spotted by the bar. I dragged him over to our table. My sister Kate raises the roof.
OHP was glorious and my sides ached a little from the hi-jinx meets hilarity. Stand outs were Miles Kane’s live porn video manipulation and Mellman’s apology/lament to all of the girls who went to prom with gay boys. A late night it was and I headed back towards south Brooklyn in the underground with all of the other mole people.
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And woke up to this!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Even though there is a hole in my favorite boots and I had no hat nor gloves (a problem solved by dashing into the junk store for a 99 cent ski hat) I battled the mush and wet, fat, snow flakes and headed back to the city.

We took in every beautiful tchotchke at the best dispensary on the planet and ventured into the relentless storm to see what was up at the New Museum. How could I forget that Skin Fruit was opening! Oh don’t get me started on the whole controversy. I hate the entire premise for this show, and I don’t like its blurry ethical boundaries, but since my earliest knee-jerk rants at its original announcement, I have softened a bit. Perhaps I would not want the same mirror turned on myself, but, moreover, I have resolved to take more of a “wait and see” attitude. On this particular day only one floor was open, as they were saving the opening for the following week when all of the art world would descend on NYC for Armory Week.

My thoughts post viewing (on this preview day and later when I could roam the whole place): BARF! My first limited viewing was enough to turn me off from the rest right quickly. Crowded and heavy with scent and sentiment, the whole thing needed a scrubbing. Let me break it down for you: incredible work somewhat crowded into the boxy floors of the museum. Picture the sickly sweet smell of white chocolate wafting from two Terence Koh towers, while listening to the screeching sounds of Charles Ray’s backwards-rotating carousel while Tauba Auerbach’s paintings vibrate and disorient, toss in some Kara Walker rape scenes, hairy waxy legs, mirror slivers, Kiki Smith’s skin suit nailed to the wall and a wayward black branch and I felt like I was moments away from a fainting spell. As I write all of this, it sounds kind of awesome, right? Super visceral works smashed up against each other, the sheer audacity of the artist, the collector and the artist/curator slapping you across the face! And yet, it just felt sickening. Every part of it, every floor, the too-muchness of it left me empty and in need of something good and true. And so I moved on.

Nothing could keep me from my biggest art crush and soul soother, Tino Seghal. By now the details of Seghal’s two performances have been released, but I think some of the magic is lost with each reveal. Of course these illegal shots don’t tell the whole story. Nothing can really prepare you for his simple interventions, both choreographed but each distinctly different. In one you are the voyeur and in the other, a participant, but each piece brings you face-to-face with yourself. I won’t say anymore, I will only recommend that you knock over a convenience store or cash in your frequent flyer miles to see/be in it for yourself.

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A view from above of Tino Seghal’s The Kiss
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The park is crystalline and it is now dusk. Topher heads downtown to meet a friend and I head back home to pack.
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By noon the next day, I am in Hudson at my favorite weekend escape. I was here only a few weeks ago and already everyone’s favorite local painter, Earl, has an entire new body of work strewn across town. This one of Estelle Getty blows my mind, as did his other dozen panels of celebrities.
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My favorite side effect of looking at art is that everything after suddenly comes alive with meaning, like here at the antique store where every chair seems to have a companion object resting on it’s seat. Much like Jessica’s pieces I had seen in-process in the studio back in Portland, which I would later see confident and complete Laurel Gitlen’s booth at the Armory Fair.
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Jessica Jackson Hutchins, Velvet Hand, 2009; Camouflage, 2009.
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A view from the back of the house and Morning, Looking East Over the Hudson Valley from the Catskill Mountains, Frederic Edwin Church (1826-1900), Oil on canvas, 1848.
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Back in Hudson, my hosts took us on a little drive up to Olana, the home of Hudson River artist Frederic Edwin Church. The place was crawling with ladybugs, which looked great against the Hudson Valley sky. It was impossible not to feel as small as this little bug in the grandness of the landscape. Here you still feel that 19th century romanticism, which hopefully proclaimed that human beings and nature can co-exist peacefully.
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Anissa Mack,Gemini II, 2009, Mixed media.
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Store mannequins sport multicolored “jeggings” on Broadway.
Back in NY the art eye continues to blink as I walk past these ladies on my way to meet Anissa Mack (TBA:10) for a meeting. Here, man’s influence on the landscape seems to dominate and I am starting to feel like a giant clod moving through the narrow streets. Later this afternoon, I will take on the Armory Fair a sprawling trade show of modern and contemporary art down at the piers. But more about that later…