After September 11: the New York art world and
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
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 Im sure that it will work its way in.
Such experiences increase the component of anxiety in everyday life, to
The whole thing was a massive and traumatic experience. It doesnt
surprise me that theres 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
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 Goldwaters 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. Its 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
|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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