The Whitney’s New Location Causes Sensory Overload

by Genna Rivieccio

The Whitney Museum’s transference to the Meatpacking District from its original uptown location at Madison and 75th signals a number of momentous events. 1) The Whitney is continuing to prove that it is at the forefront of modernism and progressiveness in the art world, and 2) All the rich people now live downtown as opposed to uptown.

Its first weekend open did not fail to draw in the art-loving masses–though, in general, what people love about art now is taking their picture in front of it. Although the museum was open on Friday, May 1st, a block party on Saturday helped entertain those wrapped around the Gansevoort Street vicinity waiting to gain entrance into the overflowing edifice.

 

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Television

“Sure, I’m for the feminist movement. In fact, I’m pretty good at it.”

The building itself is as much a work of art as the paintings and sculptures contained within it. Designed by influential and quite possibly best living architect Renzo Piano, the lightness and functionality of the structure becomes an integral part of the experience once inside. Unlike any other museum in the city, accessing the different floors can be done via both indoor or outdoor staircases. Balconies on each floor also add to the enjoyment and absorption of the art and city.

 

View from the museum balcony

IMG_4747Cube life

The eight-floor structure is chock full of the best of the best in American art, with offerings from Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Jeff Koons and Man Ray being just some of the most iconic. The current exhibition, America Is Hard to See (taken from a Robert Frost poem of the same name), is a prime example of why the Whitney has remained a formidable contender against long-established New York museums such as the Met. Exploring the notion that American art is too indefinable to be defined, we’re given numerous instances of the varied nature of American artistic output, Joseph Stella being among one of the representations of this fact.

 

Pollock

 

Follow the (dead) leader

The concise organization of eras and themes are part of what makes viewing the collection at the Whitney so engaging. While one room centers around the political art of the 1970s, another highlights the art of propaganda during the Great Depression. The evolution of the subject matter prevalent in artwork by decade is a strong indication of our nation’s decay in a post-Golden Age world (said Golden Age being primarily the 1940s, 1950s and early and mid-1960s).

 

Reagan “killed” a lot of people in the 80s

 

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Basquiat’s “Hollywood Africans”

 

Blank expression

 

A somewhat ironical claim at the point in American history

 

Crippling debt: the American way

 

Just another faceless suburban family

Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney’s vision of promoting new and relevant artists has continued to result in one of the most important museums in the world. With its over 20,000 works of art, the new Whitney is the very embodiment of sensory overload, which is, of course, what Americans are all about.

For Once, Björk Leaves Me Unmoved

by Genna Rivieccio

Björk is rarely one to disappoint when it comes to titillating the senses. However, it has to be said that her retrospective at MoMA, entitled simply Björk (though there is a portion called Songlines you need a separate ticket for), manages to feel like a deflated boner or weak orgasm. Maybe it’s the lack of cohesion–the way different facets of the exhibits are cordoned off from one another–or the fact that Björk, in spite of having an intensive breadth of work, is too young and therefore too full of more great works to showcase in the future to have a retrospective so soon in what promises to be an even longer career (we’re talking Madonna style).


Arbitrarily placed instruments in lobby

The first introduction to the exhibit begins in the lobby, with a handful of instruments that are placed in a cursory manner that seems to have little consideration or thought put into presentation. Then, while you wait for your time slot to get into Songlines, you can watch a lengthy video rendering of “Black Lake,” one of the many epic songs off Björk’s latest album, Vulnicura. Once you’ve seen Björk pound her chest with the agony of someone experiencing the highly unwanted emotion of having a broken heart amid the rough terrain backdrop in this video, you can then pack yourself into another darkened room that reeks of other people’s bodies to watch her music video collection on the big screen. Notable videos from the collection include “Army of Me” and “All Is Full of Love.” Some were even so moved by the artistry of her videography that they felt compelled enough to bring along a sketch pad to draw images from the screen. And, perhaps in this way, there is a very interactive quality to the exhibit–though it is what you make of it; otherwise it’s utterly static, particularly if one is viewing it as a non-fan/stodgy museum-goer.


The music video room


Album covers


From the Homogenic room

At this point, you will have killed about thirty to forty-five minutes and will hopefully make your way into Songlines right on schedule without having to pretend like you’re really interested in seeing something other than Björk (because if that’s what you came for, let’s be honest, in that moment, you’re not going to give a shit about anything else). You will be told that you can only walk ahead without turning back in the exhibit as you move from room to room, as this is a representation of being unable to move anywhere in time other than forward.


Song lyrics


The infamous swan dress

Beginning with Debut, the album that set Björk apart as a solo artist from The Sugarcubes, the exhibit reveals glimpses into Björk’s artistic process via journals featuring ideas and lyrics that would eventually become the songs that have inspired and resonated with millions (if we’re going by album sales). Each room represents an album and era in Björk’s career–though it seems bizarre that the infamous swan dress is catalogued in between Debut and Post in spite of the fact that Björk sported it at the 2001 Academy Awards–well after both of the aforementioned albums were released.


Shoes from Post


Jacket from Post


From the Homogenic room


Body in repose

The Homogenic room, displaying paraphernalia from what is arguably Björk’s best album, is the most videocentric, with a moving image of the album cover and a robot display extrapolated from the video for “All Is Full of Love.” We are then taken through the Vespertine and Medúlla rooms, with the shift in our movements detected by the headphones we’ve been given to listen to the ambient narration of Björk’s life and career.


Still from the Homogenic era


From the Post room

It isn’t until the Volta room that we’re jolted out of our semi-bored coma to remember, “Oh yeah, I’m at the Björk exhibit.” Vibrant and color-rich–like the album cover itself–the Volta room is easily the most memorable. Then comes the final room, if you can call it that, which features another one of Björk’s illustrious costumes.


The final piece in the exhibit

While this retrospective is theoretically brilliant on paper, actually seeing it makes you realize that MoMA was too reliant on Björk as a name that would attract casual museum-goers and therefore decided that a pristine execution of the curation was unnecessary. And this is rather unfortunate, as Björk–and her fans–deserve better.

Donatello Gives Some Cachet to Biblical Art

by Genna Rivieccio

In terms of getting people to attend the Museum of Biblical Art, the overt challenges lie in alluring anyone who is either a) under 50 or b) not a religious zealot to visit. Enter the Sculpture in the Age of Donatello exhibit–the first “sexy” exposition quite possibly in the museum’s entire ten-year history in existence.


Exterior prototype of Florence Cathedral

The small, intimate display of some of the most important Renaissance masterpieces from the Florence Cathedral showcases not only Donatello’s early works, but also significant sculptures from Nanni di Banco, Giovanni D’Ambrogio and Filippo Brunelleschi. While Donatello is the clear-cut (no marble pun intended) master who stands out from all the rest, his contemporaries show remarkable attention to detail–punctuated by intense emotion–in their renderings.


Entrance to MOBiA

The carefully placed sculptures seem specifically curated to deliberately allow the viewer to compare and contrast the styles of each sculptor. For instance, di Banco’s Saint Luke sculpture is positioned next to Donatello’s Saint John sculpture in order to distinguish between their subtle, yet palpable differences. The emotion on Saint John’s face is far sterner and more piercing than the stoner vibes of Saint Luke, whose eyes are partially closed and largely disinterested.


Saint Luke


Saint John

Architecturally speaking, Brunelleschi’s dome constructions represent simplicity at its most intricate. Up to this point (1418), there had never been a dome conceived of that was so large. The biggest size at that moment in time was the Pantheon in Rome. And so for Brunelleschi to shatter the expected barriers for a dome of this size makes him well worth being considered on the same level as Donatello with regard to his genius.

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With each piece from the exhibit being a part of the Florence Cathedral, it wouldn’t be complete without a look at the work of Lorenzo Ghiberti, a master in the art of bronze, who created a new set of doors cast in this striking material that would later become known as the Gates of Paradise. Donatello was, in fact, deeply influenced by Ghiberti’s work, and would study his sculpting techniques for his own inspiration later on.

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The combined efforts of these formidable Italian sculptors–with Donatello at the forefront–combined to create one of the most incredible cathedrals in the world–thereby making religious history ever so slightly more interesting to a twenty-first century audience. Clearly, the curator at MOBiA knows exactly what to do to draw in a less greying crowd (because apparently only olds understand culture on the Upper West Side).

Smoking Barrel’s Graffiti Criticism Corner, Florence Edition

In this semi-weekly series, I, Smoking Barrel/Genna Rivieccio (don’t make me choose an identity) will give you insight into some of the very coked out political-minded graffiti that tends to appear specifically in the Florence area. I will try to lend some sort of behind-the-scenes thought process to graffiti “artists” who genuinely believed what they were tagging was genius and/or made any sort of sense. At the end of each critique, three of the following grades will be given: Why are you torturing my eyes?, Marginal or I Want to Get What You’re Saying, But I Just Can’t.

When it comes to graffiti of this nature, Banksy pretty much has it on lockdown. Anyone else’s attempt at it just feels naturally contrived in the worst possible sort of imitative way. While Europe in general seems to have a higher concern regarding the privacy invasion of CCTV, it is really America that should be worried. And yet, we’re obsessed with putting ourselves on blast via various “social media outlets” (a phrase I’m convinced will eventually be as antiquated as World Wide Web).

Still, considering Italy has about two channels, RAI and Mediaset (owned by international parody Silvio Berlusconi), it’s no wonder the country is concerned with “stopping control”–not just on a camera level. The concentration of power, however, is not going to be moved by this derivative graffito that’s already been played in the U.K.

Graffiti Grade: Marginal

Location: Not sure, Florence isn’t that big, is it? Surely you could track this graffito down.

Putting the Pomp in Doria-Pamphilj

by Genna Rivieccio

For those who go to Rome, it appears as though the Doria Pamphilj (an awkward word, yes, pronounced Pomp-feel-ee) Gallery is an unearthed gem that remains unexplored due to the other, more famous monuments to visit (e.g. the Vatican and the Pantheon) that distract from this must-see art collection situated in the Doria Pamphilj Palace.


The entrance to the gallery focuses solely on landscape paintings

The small, but carefully curated space features a collection originally built up by Pope Innocent X, who then bequeathed the palace to Camillo Francesco Maria Pamphili (he spelled it with an “i” at the end for a minute), a cardinal who would go on to become a nobleman of the Pamphilj family. Incidentally, after the death of Pope Innocent X’s (originally named Giovanni Battista) brother, Pamphilio Pamphili, he became “a lot closer” with Camillo’s mother, Olimpia Maidalchini, who would become one of the only powerful women in Rome in the seventeenth century after becoming adviser to Pope Innocent X–a fair trade for helping him ascend to the role.


The Hall of Mirrors

Narrated by the pompous sounding (and probably pompous IRL) Jonathan Doria Pamphilij, an adopted ancestor of the illustrious family known for causing scandals of his own, the experience of seeing each piece is heightened by his selected back stories.


Above painting by Jacob Van Loo, below painting by Annibale Carracci

The most famous painting housed on the premises is, hands down, Velázquez’s portrait of Pope Innocent X, in which he is seated regally (a not surprising adjective considering popes were once more powerful than kings at this point in time) wearing a red hat and cape that accents his noble air. But then again, he also looks decidedly sinister–as any pope who banged his sister-in-law would.


Pope Innocent X, as rendered by Velázquez

 

Once you pass the Velázquez room, you make your way down the Hall of Mirrors, an opulent space featuring an array of mirrors (naturally) and statues. It makes one wonder if perhaps the people of the past were less clumsy, able to control their limbs for long periods of time without knocking something over. Because you best believe if an American of today lived in this palace, he would have no trouble getting too close to one of the sculptures and fucking it up.


Ornate

When you finally make your way through this hallway, you’ll continue down to see the varied collection from the likes of Rubens, Titian and Caravaggio. Even the “lesser known” works, like those from Pasquale Chiesa and Maestro Jacomo, show that taste is something the Doria Pamphilij family never bought. Each of the ancestors that took possession of the palace seemed only to add something beautiful to it, resulting in one of the most impressive personal collections in the world. So after your mandatory Vatican trip, harness your strength with a plate of pasta and an espresso and make the visit to the Doria Pamphilij Gallery.