No Sleep ‘Til Doug Wheeler


The word is that the wait to get in to Doug Wheeler’s installation at David Zwirner Gallery is long. But how long is it? This reporter found out on Saturday morning, the second-to-last Saturday of the show’s run. Along with two friends, Cooper-Hewitt staffers Chuck Kim and Jocelyn Groom, I arrived at 10, as the gallery was opening, to find dozens of people waiting, and that was just on the sidewalk; as Zwirner employees regularly pointed out, there was a long wait inside the door as well.

Conversations were struck up as the minutes, and then the hours, dragged on. The light changed as 11 a.m. arrived. It was agreed that a cart selling coffee and donuts would make a killing on this breezy 39-degree morning. Notes were compared about the relative pleasantness of staffers managing the line, one of whom was forced to ask everyone to move back when a group prematurely entered the inner waiting room.

Behind us on line and in from Cleveland specifically to see the show was Bellamy Printz, artist and curator. She had made the 9-hour drive with her husband and 10-year-old twins. (The twins were off doing other things.) “The only other time I’ve waited in line for hours for anything,” Printz griped good-naturedly, “was in a Walmart to see child actor Victoria Justice with the twins.”

Having seen Wheeler’s installation once already, artist Perry Greaves told A.i.A., “It’s worth seeing, but it’s not all that. It’s trickery. It’s illusion. I’d rather go see James Turrell.” His friend Ken Marec was in line, reading Freud’s Beyond the Pleasure Principle while he waited. “We are beyond the pleasure principle,” he said, shivering.

By about 1:15, after reinforcements of coffee and bagels from Chelsea Market, we were at the gallery door. Zwirner himself brought in several small groups, bypassing the line. “It looked really warm in there,” Chuck Kim quipped after a peek inside the door.

Once inside, at about 1:25, we warmed up slightly and chatted with Zwirner staffer Allana Strong. “The first people this morning arrived at 8:45,” she said. “Saturday morning is really the worst time to come.” Now she tells me. Many tourists make a special trip after reading about the show, she said. “People from Argentina, Stockholm and Japan have come. Many people have come specifically from Boston and D.C., and there are lots of repeat visitors, one woman who has come four times and brings a different friend each time.”

By about 2 o’clock, we penetrated Wheeler’s SA MI 75 DZ NY 12 (2012). While it would be hard for anything to feel worth that kind of wait, especially when you’re ushered out after less than 30 minutes, the installation is mind-bending. One enters a hazy white space with seemingly no limits, no edges—no nothing. Quoting Neo from The Matrix, Printz joked, “We’re going to need guns. Lots of guns.” As in those white-room scenes in the movie, consciousness was expanded. Minds were blown. And then it was on to a late lunch.

Doug Wheeler, SA MI 75 DZ NY 12 (2012). Photo courtesy David Zwirner.