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The Guggenheim's Iteration of the Great Whatever: A Review

An informal review of the exhibition titled theanyspacewhatever
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum
October 24, 2008–January 7, 2009

A year ago, Unmonumental, the inaugural exhibition at the New Museum of Contemporary Art on the Bowery, brought us a little unkempt assemblage. In the spring, the Whitney Biennial unleashed youthful MFA mayhem within the museum and in the Armory. Now, the Guggenheim, in celebration of its extensive renovation, brings us Part Three of the Great Whatever.

In contrast to last year's New Museum exhibit (WOTBA review), one in which the curators boldly established an overarching aesthetic of the re-purposed "unmonumental" sculpture, and in contrast to the Whitney's celebration of "lessness" and "non-spectable,"(WOTBA story), the Guggenheim, reflecting on its glorious and problematic Frank Lloyd Wright spiral environs, has thrown its curatorial hands up in the air with its new exhibition titled theanyspacewhatever. Iamnotkiddingitscalledthat. Also binding the three exhibits together is that none of them pass my computer's spell check.

Here's what it looks like over at the Guggenheim: We'll just invite some cool artists over and they can do whatever they want here. The only theme needs to be the Guggenheim space. Won't that be cool? Paintings won't work here and never will. We'll show some movies and like, hang out and lie around on cushions on the floor and have some coffee. Invite your friends. There will be like words everywhere, and we can use the word "discursive" to describe it. We'll even let people sleep over in Carsten Höller's Revolving Hotel Room (sorry, kids, sold out).

Whatever. This eclectic, minimal and conceptual group exhibit seems an unworthy way to celebrate a major museum's extensive renovation. The participatory nature of the exhibition falls into the category of wegetitalready. Some of the works seem decidedly phoned-in. Self-reflexivity grows old. There are exceptions. Jenny Holzer's Friday night light shows of projected texts onto the exterior as well as Pierre Huyghe's infrequent tours through the darkened space may offer exciting moments. Holler's hotel room is elegant in its way. The artworks do comment well on the space, but most are not that successful on their own terms.

Did I mention that I had fun? There's a decided teenage angst love in the Guggenheim's Great Whatever, especially in hanging out and watching films and videos. I also enjoyed winding my way through the forest of Jorge Pardo's cardboard screens while walking downhill, and I liked Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster's tropical sound environment, even if I didn't think it was that original. Maurizio Cattelan's fairytale character floating dead in the museum's fountain seemed stupid, but fun stupid. What makes for extra teen fun is that the museum guides hover about the spectators and tell them which pieces they are allowed to touch. It was like having chaperones!

It's not too passé to hope for some moments of the sublime, even while visiting a contemporary museum. I found these moments in the Catherine Opie exhibit, a major retrospective of her photography that's housed on four floors of the museum. Her works, in contrast to the whatever in the lobby, seem finished, and I especially recommend to visitors to check out two of her series in particular, one on ice fishing shacks and the other on surfers. They're facing one another in the same room, and they are sublime.

Sogoanywayandhavesomefun. Whatever.

I can only dream that one day the Met will invite everyone over for a gigantic sleepover. I have my eye on the museum's opulent Venetian bedroom from a palace off the Grand Canal. As the bed doesn't appear to rotate, I bet I will sleep well.

Image: Looking up at the Guggenheim dome. Artwork of the night sky on the ceiling is by Angela Bulloch. Image by Walking Off the Big Apple.

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