After September 11: the New York art world and Reedies
By Matthew Kangas ’71

A good number of Reed alumni have become professional artists and art-world professionals, some in positions of power and influence in New York. During a recent trip there, I spoke with just three: Leo Rubinfien ’74, photographer and writer who has written for Art in America, among many other publications; Lawrence Rinder ’83, chief curator of contemporary art at the Whitney Museum of American Art and organizer of the current Whitney Biennial 2002; and Marge Goldwater ’71, former curator, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis (and former interim director, Fort Worth Museum of Modern Art), now executive director of the Jewish Foundation for Education of Women. All three were in New York on September 11 and all responded in typical Reed fashion to my questions: thoughtful, analytical, and unflappable.

Rubinfien lives closest to Ground Zero, on Nassau Street, with his wife and children. Their building is only 200 yards from the World Trade Center, so they were evacuated. He saw the bombing of both the first and second towers.

“Has [September 11] affected my work?” he responded to my question about the events of September 11. “Yes, but subtly. I have no plans to do a project as such, but I’m sure that it will work its way in. Such experiences increase the component of anxiety in everyday life, to be sure.

“The whole thing was a massive and traumatic experience. It doesn’t surprise me that there’s so much art being made about it after the fact. Before, there was much discussion about ‘irony’ and ‘theatricality’ in current art. Will that subside? It would be one good outcome if it did.”

Larry Rinder returned to New York on September 10, after three months of travel seeking art for the new Whitney Biennial 2002. He was astounded by how much of the art he had already chosen “generally felt completely in synch with the emotional tone of the moment.”

“I had a chance to ask myself whether any of the selections I had done up to that point were still relevant in the wake of the dramatic turn of events. They were. As time has gone by, this sense of their appropriateness has only deepened. Among the Biennial works, there are many. . . that cast a contemplative gaze on fundamental questions of human existence and others that celebrate a spirit of living for the moment. I feel that these two emotional poles, which one might call ‘melancholy’ and ‘manic,’ characterize life post-September 11.

“How is it so many artists tapped into these currents in advance of the events? In my opinion, it is because the world we live in now, post-September 11, is not fundamentally different from the world we lived in before. The Biennial artists have not prognosticated, but simply paid attention, noting the fissures and instabilities that most of us so blithely ignored,” he concluded.

Rinder was an intern of Marge Goldwater’s while she was at the Walker Art Center. She noted how, in practical terms, many museums have been affected by the dramatic downturn in the number of visitors.

“And while some cutbacks [in New York museums] can be ascribed to financial difficulties arising from the disaster, other problems at institutions like the Guggenheim Museum of Art have been brewing for a long time despite claims of being related to the events of September 11,” she continued.

“In that sense, September 11 was not long-lasting in terms of people staying away from the galleries and auctions. People are moving around freely again. It’s hard to predict what, if any, other long-term effects might occur,” Goldwater, who is the author of the monographs Jennifer Bartlett and Marcel Broodthaers, concluded.

For myself, a two-week stay in late February and early March suggested the heroic resilience of New Yorkers and the art world there. The annual art show of the Art Dealers Association of America at the Park Avenue Armory was well attended. It occurred the same weekend as another Armory show, subtitled “The International Fair of New Art.” One hundred and seventy-eight galleries from around the world traveled to New York in a tremendous surge of support. The range of work was impressive, ultra-cutting edge, but, above all, the sense of excitement and solidarity with New Yorkers and artists demonstrated to me that, more than ever, in spite of recent cataclysmic events, New York is still the global capital of contemporary art.
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Matthew Kangas ’71 is a contributor to Art in America and contributing editor of GLASS and Sculpture.
His latest book is “Robert Willson: Image-Maker” (University of Washington Press).

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