Art's new It girl shows at the Whitney

Emerging artist Rachel Rose’s (above) first United States solo show is called Everything And More.
Emerging artist Rachel Rose’s (above) first United States solo show is called Everything And More.PHOTO: NEW YORK TIMES

The video installations of Rachel Rose are the museum's first dip into younger cutting-edge exhibits

NEW YORK • The art world is always looking for the Next Big Thing, and right now, the video installations of Rachel Rose look set to be It.

This month alone, her work has been featured in London at the Frieze art fair and in a solo show at the Serpentine Gallery, and it is likely to make a splash at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York.

For the first five months in its grand new building, the museum chose to show off its older treasures; the installation by Rose, which opens on Oct 30, will be the enlarged Whitney's first dip into a younger cutting edge, with a series of similar encounters to follow.

Rose throws together images and sounds - visions of the cosmos, the audience at a rock concert, Aretha Franklin emoting - to wrestle with issues that trouble the planet, and people's lives.

Human predicaments are complex, so her works aim for some of the same intricacy, in both what they show people and how they do the showing. Think Ryan Trecartin's video chaos mashed up with J.M.W. Turner's visions of the sublime, plus a dollop of the Whole Earth Catalog.

With all the attention she is getting, most artists would imagine their careers might be peaking. At the venerable age of 28, however, with just four mature works to her name, she is barely into hers. Asked to think of the moment when she got her big break, she can cast her mind back as far as "Right now!"

She was speaking in her New York studio-office and is especially eager to explain that her video palimpsests, as she describes them, are more than attractive collages.

Her new, space-based Whitney piece - her first United States solo show - is called Everything And More.

It is named after David Foster Wallace's book on infinity, and when it bounces among an astronaut's account of seeing earth from orbit, Franklin's gasps and sighs, and the ecstasy of electronic dance music, it is meant to bring viewers closer, if only crabwise, to their condition as earthlings.

One of her videos last year begins with borrowed YouTube footage of a brutal summer hailstorm on a Russian beach. It then cuts to a complex montage about architect Philip Johnson's 1949 Glass House, made to stand for the modernist ideas of progress that got the human race where it is today, and for its love-hate relationship with such notions.

Rose said: "I could choose to think about global warming from a political perspective, but I choose to think about it from an emotional one: What is my personal anxiety about our relationship to the environment?"

That, she explains, may not end up being as straightforward as some tidy political statement.

"Maybe it isn't just anxiety that I feel about global warming and catastrophe," she said. "Maybe I also feel some ecstasy in it. Maybe I also feel some boredom in there."

Mr Christopher Y. Lew, the Whitney curator who offered Rose her show, said that from the moment he saw her work, when she was still in graduate school in New York, he was struck "by how she was able to gather such a mix of images, and of content as well, and weave it into a unique narrative".

She pulled some kind of order, he said, out of the whirlpool of information, without denying the flood.

As Rose explained it, art for art's sake simply did not mesh with an upbringing, on a farm in upstate New York, where dinner-table talk was about weighty issues, hashed out between a mother in humanitarian aid and an urban planner father.

Rose would get more doses of heavyweight thinking as she gathered an improbably perfect resume: a bachelor's degree from the art department at Yale; a master's in art history from the august Courtauld Institute in London (following in the footsteps, she said, of rigorous art star Jeff Wall); and then a Master of Fine Arts at Columbia University, one of the country's top choices for that degree.

Shelly Silver, the new-media artist who heads that programme, recalled Rose as having been "off-the-charts" talented, even as a painter.

And she remembered how video had come to the rescue when painting was no longer filling her student's needs.

Rose taught herself the tricks of the video trade, and while not even owning a computer, she came up with a "can't-keep- up-with-it" editing style that, according to Silver, provokes a response "like little explosions in the brain".

Her work comes at the troubles in the world, Silver said, and greets them with "a Nietzschean, joyous 'No!'".


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 19, 2015, with the headline 'Art's new It girl shows at the Whitney'. Print Edition | Subscribe