Late Nights at the Whitney
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Wu Tsang is interested in blurring the lines between public and private space and, within the specific context of a museum, between the spaces occupied by artworks and those intended to be functional and “supportive” of the art. In GREEN ROOM, Tsang has created a private space, outfitted with customdesigned furniture, mirrors, linoleum, and carpet, to serve as a dressing room for the dancers, actors, and musicians participating in the Biennial. When not being utilized for this purpose, the space is open to Museum visitors, to be experienced as both an art installation and a lounge area. As GREEN ROOM oscillates between these two modes, it gradually loses the pristine qualities typically associated with a work of art, acquiring instead the wear and tear of use.
When open to the public, Tsang’s installation presents a two-channel video environment. Through the story of the central character, a transgender woman who recounts leaving the persecution of Honduras for Los Angeles and finding haven in a local bar, the video explores the concept of “safe space.” Narrative elements and talking head–style interviews are interwoven with atmospheric shots of the bar, the Silver Platter, as it transitions from day to night. The artist has positioned the screens on perpendicular walls, bringing the viewing experience into three-dimensional space. Inspired by the interior of the Silver Platter, the simple decor throughout the room reiterates the environment that offered a sense of sanctuary.
Rooted in the tropical underground of Los Angeles nightlife, art, and music, WILDNESS presents a portrait of the Silver Platter, a historic landmark bar on the east side of Los Angeles that has provided a home for Latin/LGBT immigrant communities since 1963. Through a magical-realist lens, in which the bar itself becomes a character in the film, WILDNESS depicts the creativity and conflict that ensues when a group of young, queer artists of color—including Wu Tsang and DJs NGUZUNGUZU and Total Freedom—organize an experimental performance art party called Wildness on Tuesday nights at the bar. The film explores the concept of a “safespace,” teasing apart what it can mean for different/marginalized groups of people and what kind of protection it can provide, as well as its limits and failures. Through this exploration, Tsang documents the complicated and beautiful coalitions across groups and generations that took place at the Silver Platter.
GREEN ROOM, together with Tsang’s feature documentary WILDNESS and his essay in the exhibition catalogue, make up parts of a larger work, revealing how the interpretation of a single subject can vary as perspective and audience change.
Wu Tsang's work is on view in the Museum's fourth floor galleries. Tsang's work is being screened in the Museum's second floor film & video gallery May 9 through 13.