Sunday, April 4, 2010

Kate Gilmore at Whitney Biennial 2010

It's interesting the different types of medium that go into "Standing Here" by Kate Gilmore- video, performance and sculpture. Gilmore actually climbs rapidly from floor to ceiling an "institutional" shaft, a rectangular tube meant to represent the art world. This metaphorical act is a display of scraping ones way in order to get to the top. In this exercise she plunges hand and foot through the walls upward to the video recording device she's intent on turning off, signifying that this stage of her career is complete: She made it into the Whitney Biennial. Her idea is neatly framed by this elevator like column sheathed in sheet rock which she has to break into first before climbing the walls inside. No one shows you the steps you have to take, this says, you have to make them up on your own as she has for herself. This work of art is also gestural both in it's personal statement and the creative destruction which ensues regarding ones grappling with entangled ambition. Here process art and the ambition come together, art making's destructive/creative nature and it's inherent difficulties of doing it. This performance very much about how hard it is to make it in the art world. 

     Once Ms Gilmore ingeniously breaks into this box, with each new physical effort on her part detritus accumulates on the floor beneath her. As she begins her ascent, physically puncturing irregular holes in the walls, abstract patterns and other marks occur. Painted sheet rock tumbles to the floor in chunks of yellow accumulating as she climbs. Completing the overall effect is herself superimposed image on everything dressed in a polka dot dress, adding to this video collage.  Although it works on an artistic level for the viewer temporarily, cumulatively however, it seems the artistic tension is minimal, the action too fast, only partially political and, without too much conflict: It's too safe and a tame expression of brute force. All in all still it's exciting to watch for it's fun factor.

     As the video action unfolds, there are any number of possibilities and outcomes to this piece. But it turns out that although it doesn't seem to have been work out beforehand, you can tell that there was a lot planning in this piece. It has the air of spontaneity, but only to a degree, as there were plenty of wooden braces built into the wall for her to stand on while she climbs. But what if she had fallen, what would it have been about then? Which leads to this question, did the concept come before the title or after it's creation? Since it seems she is speaking about woman's struggle to gain access to the usually male dominated museum world and her own struggles to get there, are they one and the same? I think the outcome was too predictable. Thus, success is a given and it's meaning interpreted easily correctly. It is tempting to the think that the sterile walls were alluding to typical gallery and the action is also about tearing at and down the old walls of tradition and convention? It's these interesting number of outcomes that come to mind when you delve into the random potential of this piece, Its too bad the multiplicity of possibilities weren't explored more fully. It's final calculated outcome is it's shortcoming: It's comment on struggling artists, particularly woman, Is this really new? Beside these minor setbacks, the piece maintains an interesting mix of elements and in turn we get a fulfilling art work that completes it's task in synthesizing performance, sculpture, painting and film simultaneously.




  1. Something important you noted is that “success is a given,” which is very true as the video would not only have had a very different meaning if it was not, but that Gilmore’s whole attempt to break feminine stereotypes would have in fact been a point for the other side. As one watches the video, it is difficult to feel anxiety or curiosity as to the result, but those feelings can be applied to the method. How she manages to break holes in the sheetrock and find footholds on the wood is what is most interesting: her struggle is almost more important than her goal (though it must be achieved), an idea which can also be applied to women’s struggle for equality.

  2. You are correct in stating that the piece symbolizes women's struggles and there definitely was thorough preparation for the work. Kate Gilmore’s concept fell a bit flat for me and she lost me when she began climbing the walls with her pumps on. I wanted her to take her heels off so bad. I feel that her concept would have been stronger if she stripped herself of the cliché feminine attire—once she entered the space. This piece, like a majority of the works exhibited at the Whitney Biennial left me asking ‘WHY’. I do agree with you toward the end of your review, when you say that the video is an amalgamation of media, but I do not feel it was a successful combination of the arts. Also, I don’t mean to be picky, but there are a number of grammatical errors in the review that made it very difficult to read…

  3. You make some interesting observations about this work; the unified use of different media, for example. Your remarks on how the planning begins to undermines the spontaneity as the wooden structure within the walls is revealed interests me too. But I would go a little further as to how. I remember seeing more horizontal beams than necessary for building a structure of that size -- perfect for climbing, though. Perhaps your expertise makes you more aware than your readers.

    I feel a little funny about your interpretation of the art world metaphor leading to a "correct" attribution of meaning. While it's a valid interpretation and probably not off the mark, it seems the exact or correct intended meaning of the work can only come from the horse's mouth. Maybe saying that her accomplishing the task, getting to the top, has symbolic meaning that supports/completes this interpretation would allow reading of the work to be a little less narrow.