Saisha Grayson

“With a Body Made of Time:” Andrea Geyer’s Time Tenderness and Contemporaneity at The New Whitney

Time Tenderness, 2015, performance at the whitney Museum of American Art, 2015. Performers: Omagbitse Omagbemi and Lily Gold (photo Andrea Geyer)

Time Tenderness, 2015, performance at the Whitney Museum of American Art, May 13-18, 2015. Performers: Omagbitse Omagbemi and Lily Gold (photo: Philip Wolak)

This essay response to Andrea Geyer’s performance piece, Time Tenderness, though written three years ago, has been on my mind recently. Time Tenderness was commissioned for the opening of the “new” Whitney, intervening in its freshly revealed galleries from May 13 to 18, 2015.  As you’ll read, it powerfully impacted my first impressions and hopes for that institution. Around the time of this writing, I joined another American art museum, also in the process of rethinking how it presents its permanent collection, its picture of America and our collective, contested relation to these histories. That project has ramped up, as has the debate about “who we really are” as a nation, the painful reckoning with representation and its only partial relation to equity, and the awareness that false narratives are literally killing us. At the same time, the Whitney’s reputational ride makes my enthusiasm for their opening moves (as opposed to Geyer’s) seem a bit naïve, though I do point to the difference between content shifts and long-term structural change. Even still, I got some things right: that the effort to make museum’s “time machines that serve the future as well as the past,” would not be simple, and could not just be performative; and that artists like Geyer would be “invaluable…in pushing these conversations even further,” calling into question the innumerable ways that business-as-usual continues at our museums.  America is hard to see; it is also hard to represent, hard to live in, and hard to talk to right now.  We all have our work cut out, but thinking alongside Geyer’s work helps me see points of light, stretching from corners of history still being mined to tomorrows still to be defined.

“With a Body Made of Time”: Andrea Geyer’s Time Tenderness and Contemporaneity at The New Whitney was originally intended for a monographic catalogue that was abruptly canceled mid production due to unrelated circumstances. In discussing reviving it now, the artist reminded me that, as an in-person account, this essay serves as an invaluable document of a site-specific and inherently fleeting intervention into a museum’s attempt at reframing its role and goals in framing American Art. We are both glad a return to these concerns and pages allows for them to be repeated, with new insistence, here.

Link to 16mm film of performance:
Link to short interview about the work:

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