I’ve been going to the Whitney Biennial for as long as I can remember, and enjoyed my time there on Sunday. It’s always interesting in some way and I’m never sure what to expect.
The Biennial began as an annual exhibition in 1932, and as a biennial in 1973. Originally an exhibition of work by young and lesser known artists, it has evolved over time. This, albeit dated, is an interesting history of the Biennial.
“The Whitney Biennial has surveyed the landscape of American art, reflecting and shaping the cultural conversation, since 1932. The eightieth edition of the landmark exhibition is co-curated by David Breslin and Adrienne Edwards. Titled Quiet as It’s Kept, the 2022 Biennial features an intergenerational and interdisciplinary group of sixty-three artists and collectives whose dynamic works reflect the challenges, complexities, and possibilities of the American experience today.” (Whitney Museum of American Art)
Charles Ray’s three sculptures on the rooftop are even more magnificent in person. I’ll be going back to the show just to see these again.
“This installation features three new sculptures by Charles Ray: a blankly staring man, a man eating a burger, and a drunken man. Carved from stainless steel, steel, and cast in bronze and painted, these sculptures combine cutting-edge technology and skilled handwork. He works slowly and meticulously, often spending years on each sculpture. His figures are both extremely specific and archetypal. But the sculptures can also be read as emblems of our historical moment: drug-altered, precariously employed, drunk on beer and debt. Ray, an inveterate walker, has described a daily routine that informs his thinking: “I go to Burger King every day, not to eat but to think. I went to one in Madrid at four in the morning; it’s just like the one in LA, identical. Who is there, and what are they being promised? Jean Gesner Henry (aka Coupé Cloué), the Haitian leader of the band Trio Select, said in an interview that money never falls into a poor man’s pocket.” (Whitney Museum of American Art)
I’ve been smitten with Woody De Othello since I first saw his work in Miami years ago. I love his work, and this installation was a Biennial highlight.
“Describing these sculptures, Woody De Othello has said: “I’m inspired by precolonial ceramics, but I don’t want to regurgitate them. I want to embody them and make them apply to my personal experience.” Building the forms from clay coils, he makes sculptures reimagining the human body and domestic objects. Acknowledging the feelings of exhaustion that have accompanied the pandemic and the reality of living, Othello has suggested that this work points to a place of guarded optimism: “I think about ideas of self-preservation and self-care. We’re inundated with trauma and bombarded by the bad news in the media, things happening in life. These sculptures want to put themselves out there emotionally but also want to protect themselves.” (Whitney Museum of American Art)
“Emily Barker based Kitchen on their own experiences using a wheelchair, exaggerating the height of the countertops—which, at 5’9”, are the average height of adult men in the U.S. Barker aims to show how “the seemingly mundane built environment and the mass production of objects harms people every day.” The artist was drawn to the materiality of translucent plastic for both practical reasons—it is lightweight and easy to work with—and expressive ones. “I want people to experience this glimmering, transparent, massive three-dimensional object catching the light and their first impression to be one of atmospheric formal beauty.” Barker has described the second impression being a realization of the profound obstacles faced by people with disabilities.” (Whitney Museum of American Art)
“Na Mira’s time-based work uses autobiography and chance to address larger political histories. In a series she began making in 2018, Mira reflects on how mythology intersects with contemporary lived experiences of violence, colonialism and desire. Mira’s installation includes footage of her performing as a tiger in the Demilitarized Zone between North and South Korea, a ritual at the site of late artist Theresa Hak Kyung Cha’s 1982 murder, as well as a radio broadcast that has been transmitting in her studio from an unknown source. Informed by spiritual practices and shamanism—Mira’s great-grandmother lived as a shaman during the period of the Japanese occupation of Korea when it was outlawed—the works are radically open-ended, guided by circumstance and direct embodied experience. Mira shoots with an infrared night camera to find evidence of what the eye normally cannot see. But the camera’s frequent glitches also suggest how much of what is present—histories, memories, spirits, the past—keeps its own time and place.” (Whitney Museum of American Art)
“In this installation Alfredo Jaar meditates on the events of June 1, 2020, six days after police officer Derek Chauvin murdered George Floyd, a forty-six-year-old Black man. One of the many peaceful protests following Floyd’s death took place in Washington, D.C.’s Lafayette Square, near the White House. In order to facilitate a photo op for former President Donald Trump raising a Bible in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church adjacent to Lafayette Square, U.S. Attorney General William Barr ordered federal forces to clear the area. They subsequently fired on the peaceful protestors with tear gas, stun grenades, and rubber bullets. They also flew two helicopters so low to the ground that the wind created by their rotors broke tree branches and scattered debris. The militarized use of helicopters has been prohibited by international human-rights law and horrified Jaar: “When, starting at 6:39 pm, authorities set off a series of explosions in the middle of the crowd in Lafayette Square, I thought about my own experience in Pinochet’s Chile. A few hours later, I watched with horror the arrival of the helicopters. That is when I realized that I was witnessing fascism. Fascism had arrived in the USA.” (Whitney Museum of American Art)
Whitney Biennial 2022: Quiet as it’s Kept opens tomorrow and will be on view through September 5, 2022. I’ll be going back!
On the first floor of the Whitney there is a gallery next to the cafe that is always worth a visit. The video installation EXTRACTS is worth seeing.