When I first heard that part of the 2008 Whitney Biennial would consist of “events” at the Park Avenue Armory that aren’t usually thought of as art, I wondered how I might cover one or two. But which one. The 24-hour dance marathon? Too tiring. The gypsy feast? Too fattening. The tequila bar? Too much….tequilla.
Then I learned that my distinguished blogging colleague C-Monster had scored one of the limited number of appointments for one of the most curious undertakings of the whole Biennial, the Bert Rodriguez “therapy sessions”. Lightbulb! Have her go to her appointment, I decided, and then write about it. And since Rodriguez isn’t actually a therapist, there wouldn’t be any of that inconvenient doctor-patient confidentiality stuff to worry about.
So here it is, C-Monster’s daring inside account of the talking-as-art experience.
I somehow managed to finagle one of the few coveted spots for a “therapy” session at the Whitney Biennial with Miami artist Bert Rodriguez. (The piece is officially titled In the Beginning…) Inside a furnished, white-walled cube, Rodriguez has been conducting hour-long therapy appointments with “patients”. (i.e. volunteers) Those are transmitted, with ample distortion, into the gallery space outside. To anyone outside, the broadcasts sound sort of like the mumbles that Charlie Brown hears when the grown-ups are talking.
I’ve never been to therapy in my life. But seeing as the session was free and I’m seriously lacking in health insurance, I figured it couldn’t hurt. That was until I sat in the waiting area, wondering what I was gonna talk to Rodriguez about for a whole hour. My parents love me and I’m happily married. So I focused my thoughts on all of the things that make me apprehensive—art, war, my perennial lack of funds. In the process, I became increasingly anxious. (Is this what therapy does to people?) By the time Rodriguez opened the door, I was ready to talk.
For our session, Rodriguez and I faced each other, Sopranos-style, over a round, low-lying table, box of Kleenex at the ready. He reminded me that he wasn’t a real therapist and told me I could talk about whatever topics I wanted. We chatted about blogging, iPhones, getting mugged on the No. 4 train and what it’s like to have a steady stream of New Yorkers come in and blab to you about their existence. (FYI: It’s exhausting.) But for most of the hour, we discussed art-induced agita—the twitchy, nervous condition that comes from poring through impenetrable museum catalogues and blustering exhibit reviews. I wanted to know why the art industry has this bizarre impulse to bury itself in fancy lingo. Rodriguez couldn’t provide firm answers, but we did come to the conclusion that it’s a way for people with expensive degrees to give themselves purpose, to tell us what we purportedly know.
All the while, outside Rodriguez’s perfect white cube, passersby were straining to understand what was happening inside. People tapped and even slammed on the door in frustration. Rodriguez had had to install a lock early on in the process because a number of visitors were barging in (despite the sign on the door asking them not to do so). It was a perfect metaphor for the art industry. Inside, was a simple conversation between two people. Outside, with all the added layers, everything was distorted, incomprehensible and inaccessible. Just the way the art industry likes it.