|Detail from "Labyrinth" by Maia Ruth Lee|
One of my favorite pieces was Maia Ruth Lee's "Labyrnith," a site-specific work created from steel glyphs made by local welders from metal Lee scavenged from across the city. The juxtaposition of the interesting shapes with the robin's egg blue wall just drew me in. But what was really interesting about the work is the symbology Lee has created.
|Steel glyph chart|
Thanks to Wendi's keen eye, I have a copy of the chart setting out what some of these glyphs mean. In their entirety, they are intended to provide viewers with the tools to help 2020 be the Year of Self-Defense. But when she says "self-defense," Lee isn't referring to using one of these glyphs to ward off an attacker (although that would probably work). Instead, they are reminders to defend against your own darker instincts, including stress, fear, jealousy and hate. The chart also suggests the use of these symbols to enhance your humor, communication, balance and other qualities. The title of the work -- "Labyrinth" -- is explained on the chart through this quote: "But you know I myself am a labyrinth, where one easily gets lost."
And here's a tidbit about Lee that we learned from our docent. She might have developed the propensity to create her own language from her parents. While living in Nepal, they were tasked with creating a written translation of the Bible into Sherpa. It was more of a challenge than the typical translation since Sherpa was only a spoken language. Consequently, their project required them to create a Sherpan alphabet from the sounds of the language. It's mind-boggling to consider.
|Detail from "The Farm" by Pat Phillips|
"The Farm" also includes a tear gas cannister behind the fence. This is a reference to the controversy over the manufacturing of tear gas by Safariland, a company owned by Whitney Board member Warren B. Kanders. There is evidence that Safariland tear gas was used on migrants attempting to cross the Mexican border. Protesters have called for Kanders' removal from the Board. To date, the Whitney has taken no action. I appreciated the docent calling attention to this issue rather than dodging it.
|From Nicole Eisenman's "Procession"|
I had read a bit about this work before I went to the exhibit, but I only retained this salient detail: It contains a farting figure. Yes, the man being towed--who seems to have been tarred and feathered--periodically emits steam from his rear end. Hmmm. While I'm sure there's a deep meaning, my only thought was it must be a response to how stinky the New York Giants have been the last few years. (Note the socks.)
|More from Nicole Eisenman's "Procession"|
The Whitney Biennial runs through September 22 and is well worth a visit for any art lover. To read more about the exhibit and the participating artists, click here. Many of the artist bios have short audio interviews that allow you to hear directly from the creators of the work on display. It's almost -- but not quite -- like being there.