Biennial 2000

Video installations highlight of Whitney show

Krzysztof Wodiczko's "Aegis: Equipment for a City of Strangers"

The New Yorkpress has proclaimed a collective ho-hum over Biennial 2000, now on view at the Whitney Museum of American Art. True, the exhibition of 55 works by those considered the best contemporary artists in the country lacks a certain substantive quality. Despite detailed wall texts that go great lengths to explain the significance of each individual work, several pieces are little more than amusing curiosities.

There's Kim Dingle's "63MG 4ME," a real sports car that's been girl-babified. Its body is painted a pale pink, its wheels are tricked out in white lace and it sits upon a white baby blanket. Underneath, where a pool of oil might collect, is a patch of dark red blood, as if it has experienced its first period.

Though initially intriguing, Leandro Erlich's "Rain" is ultimately so sterile, it leaves a void lingering where the emotional impact should be. The installation features a series of real windows, complete with interior treatments on one side of a wall and exterior treatments on the other side. In between, it's raining and lightning. Interesting, but that's all

Then of course there's Hans Haacke's ridiculous response to New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani's condemnation of the Sensation exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum of Art last year. Behind a black curtain is a room filled with large, plastic garbage cans. On the wall are inflammatory quotes by Giuliani, Jesse Helms and Pat Robertson, written in a gothic script associated with the Third Reich. The sound of booted troops can be heard marching, marching, marching. Subtlety is not Haacke's strong suit.

Despite its faults, one thing Biennial 2000 does is definitively establish the Age of Technology in the art world. One elaborate installation, "Aegis: Equipment for a City of Strangers" by Polish-born artist Krzysztof Wodiczko, features a mannequin wearing on its shoulders a contraption comprised of two video monitors, two speakers and a miked headseat. The monitors display head-shots of the same person, one making conversation and answering questions asked by an unseen inquisitor, the other reacting. A small room to the left of the mannequin features videotapes made by different people while wearing the contraption. Though it proposes to explore identity, it involves a supremely convoluted process and renders a pretty limited payoff.

There is also a sound installation by M.W. Burns, featuring what sounds like a thousand conversations taking place at once, and a whole array of computer art which is projected directly from a computer monitor onto a wall screen. During my visit there was some sort of technical difficulty. A few of us stood around watching the screen while a technician fiddled around making what appeared to be aborted Internet searches, which reminded me too much of work so I lost interest.

The highlight of Biennial 2000 are the video installations, of which there are many. The finest of the bunch I saw was a sublime, poetic piece called "Rapture" by Iranian-born Shirin Neshat. A high-contrast, black-and-white video shown on two side-by-side screens, it conveys without dialogue the isolation of Muslim women. Combined with Sussan Deyhim's evocative soundtrack, it is a powerfully mesmerizing work that had museum-goers packed into the small screening room.

Also notable is Doug Aitken's "Electric Earth," which relates bits and pieces from the life of a street kid in Los Angeles on a half-dozen or so screens, which surround the viewer. The piece is comprised of about three short video loops, which play over and over again, all at the same time. Together they compose a fleeting piece of narrative. Standing amidst it all, an initial feeling of sensory overload gives way to a curious sense of calm.

And finally, there are Paul Pfeiffer's petite video pieces, which are projected on the wall in a space not much bigger than a pack of cigarettes. Of the two on exhibit, the best is "Crucifixion (After Francis Bacon)," a brief, silent video loop of a professional basketball player stomping around the court, his hands balled up in tight fists, shouting presumably in joy. But as you watch the short snippet play over and over again, he appears to morph into a tortured soul, trapped in arena purgatory for eternity.

If Biennial 2000 is any indication, painting has gone the way of the manual typewriter. The future's in electrodes, baby.

Biennial 2000 continues through June 4 at the Whitney Museum of American Art, 945 Madison Ave., NYC. 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Tues.-Wed.; 1-9 p.m. Thurs.; 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Fri.-Sat.

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