Friday, March 9, 2012

Revised Sam Lewitt:  2012 Whitney Biennial 

The 2012 Whitney Biennial purports to be a core sample of the best that contemporary art currently has to offer.  While much of the work leaves the viewer underwhelmed, there are some standouts that make this exhibition, on the whole, successful.  The curatorial triumph of this exhibit is captured in an odd feeling of frenzied tranquility in which the wide-ranging disciplines coalesce in the same space.  The time-based works dovetail seamlessly with the more traditional static painting and sculpture in a way that the interwoven disciplines naturally coexist.  Despite a slight air of disorder, the exhibition succeeds on the grounds that each piece is given equal weight and allowed to retain its own identity despite the commotion of combining such disparate elements.
One such piece titled Fluid Employment by Sam Lewitt resembles a staged landscape that seems to have been transplanted straight from a laboratory onto the museum floor.  The experimental quality of this piece is highlighted by the fact that it appears to be a living entity, recalling a giant petri dish in which hybrid organisms undulate under the soft breeze of several desk fans set up around its perimeter.   Among other materials, Lewitt employs a magnetized liquid called ferrofluid in his work.  Ferrofluid is commercially ubiquitous with applications ranging from electronics devices and hard drives to magnetic resonance imaging technology in medicine.   Although it is seemingly everywhere in the technologies we rely on in the modern world, it can also have an alien presence due to the fact that it is hidden from view and unfamiliar.  In Fluid Employment, the liquid has been poured over assemblages of various types of metal, which act as weights that hold five plastic tarps to the floor.  The fluid clumps together with the magnetized weights creating masses that appear to be miniature organisms that seem to subsist off the substrate of oozing brown fluid.  In this case, the clumping fluid around the magnetized metal weights simulates the organisms.
Sparking notions of futuristic land use proposals in miniature mock-up to self-replicating Nano machines and hybrid organisms, Lewitt plays with the self-organizing properties of the material in a way that metaphorically reminds the viewer of emergent utopian-like environments still in the planning stages.  Fluid Employment succeeds as much in its beguiling range of associations as it does with its re-appropriation of technology.


  1. I like that you included an explanation of Ferrofluid in your review as well as examples of everyday objects that make use of it. Even as someone who saw it in person, your description helped make the piece more relatable.

    However, you start to lose me with your critique of Bacher’s work. I don’t quite see how Bacher’s work is “in contrast to Lewitt’s,” nor do I completely understanding the connection you make between Pipe Organ and the galaxy images.

    I was also hoping there would be a conclusion that relates the works, or further discusses what makes them exemplary pieces.

  2. I think your opening sentence is confusing, as you say that "much of the show" is "underwhelming" but then say that "on the whole" it is a successful exhibit.

    Your review of Sam Lewitt is thorough and accurate. I think that you described it well, despite it being such a necessarily visual experience.

    Your final paragraph seems short. I do not see the contrast between Lewitt and Bacher, I think you should expand on this. I also do not really understand the relation of the organ to the prints.

    I think you need some sort of conclusion that connects all of your ideas, even if it just one sentence.

  3. Your opening statement is confusing because you contradict yourself by using "frenzied tranquility" to describe an odd experience. The term frenzy would have a been enough to explain the chaos. Just touch up a few of the inconsistencies and the opening statement would be more cohesive with your overall critique of the exhibit.

    You have a good way to explain how some of the pieces are throughout the show but you should list what other materials are used in Fluid Employment by Sam Lewitt details like what other materials used would give a great idea of what it is actually like to see that piece in person.