Lutz Bacher’s humorous video loop of William Kennedy Smith saying “I did have my penis” does better on that front, but that may not be saying much. Smith was on trial for rape, and while he was found not guilty, he’s been in and out of court for sexual harassment charges ever since. As a viewer, it’s not hard to deduce that Bacher thinks Kennedy Smith is a dick. The video edit is both hostile and juvenile, suggesting the guy might have lost his penis and for the humanness of that response, we’re also reminded that a lot of 1993 was about frustration at our failure to produce solutions to problems.
We see some of that on the second floor as well—Derek Jarman’s self portrait using only blue and regaling the filmmaker’s experience with AIDS after he went blind, for example—but those works have the feel of work sandwiched within a larger overview of the gallery scene. It’s a tough transition from the other floors, which feel more guided by curatorial vision.
Take the room by Andres Serrano, Ann Hamilton, Elizabeth Peyton and John Currin. What these four artists have in common is anybody’s guess; Peyton draws celebrities, Serrano photographs dead people, Currin sexualizes women with paint, and Hamilton burned the words out books.
The exhibition is hodgepodge at best–and frustrating for it–but it still offers a look at some of the early work by artists now well established. It’s worth noting that Currin and Serrano showed greater promise than they would ultimately deliver; for all their aesthetic beauty, Serrano’s large morgue photographs of grey hands and lacerated feet are pretty disturbing. He went on to beautify different kinds of animal shit and members of the Klu Klux Klan. Currin, for his part, produced lone mysterious paintings of wiry girls in bed, and is now best known for his surfacey paintings of porn. Peyton’s work hasn’t changed much, and pretty much anything Hamilton’s done is better than a leftover prop that tells us little about the original work. It’s one of the few pieces in the exhibition that seem unnecessary.
Knowing all this history makes the exhibition more interesting, but it’s not easily accessible to anyone but insiders. For that reason, it felt good to finish my tour one door over with Nari Ward’s installation. The warehouse is filled with hundreds of dirty, abandoned strollers found in Harlem, and “Amazing Grace” plays overhead. It’s sad, it’s hopeful, it’s terrifying, and you feel all that the minute you walk in the door. I can’t say it was a pleasant feeling, but somehow, that seemed like exactly the right note to end on.