New York Photo Review
NYPR Archives - 2010

Whitney Biennial
Nina Berman, “Ty with Gun”, 2008

Ah the Whitney! Builder of Images, Maker of Reputations, Dasher of Hopes.

The general run of Biennials has been so bad these last years, the very act of attending has become a suspension of disbelief.

Unfortunately, this year’s effort does not deviate from the pattern.

Photographically the show has become a byword for trendy predictability. Whether large flat-footed, disaffected color prints or small exercises in grotesquerie, the photography showed falls well within the boundaries of the expected. And the video, my goodness the video. Always a little lost, this stepchild of film and close cousin of TV, video at the Whitney (and elsewhere too) has frequently settled into the second-best role of chronicler, totally subordinated to what it is recording. At the Biennial it is busily recording the usual rubbish. People talking into the lens, people performing nonsensical actions, people bumbling about an empty stage aiming to be significant.

Anyway, this was how things were going, when, suddenly, I came upon a wall of images that were REMARKABLE.

 by unidentified photographer.
Roland Flexner, “E.2009.1022”, 2008-2009

I blinked and rushed out to get a friend of mine who was suffering through the next room. We both blinked.

But there they were–thirty exquisite works by one Roland Flexner.

Small, beautifully executed abstract black ink drawings full of finely etched detail,

they share the same landscape of feeling occupied by the photographs of Minor White and Paul Caponigro, which they uncannily resemble. In fact they have such a photographic quality, (and in the absence of first-rate photography) we decided that for the occasion they should be considered honorary photographs. Rich and mysterious, grave and compelling, they pull the viewer into their imaginary orbits as nothing else in the show does, reminding us of the kind of experience, art– even at the Biennial– can sometimes offer.

Whitney Biennial

Whitney Museum of American Art
945 Madison Ave.
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Thursday, February 25 to
Sunday, May 30, 2010
Hours: Weds - Sun 11 to 6; Fri 1 to 9