What the Whitney Biennial Tells Us About Art Today
1) Art is Political With the current state of political and social divisiveness in the United States, it’s no wonder the Whitney Biennial this year is saturated with political work. The Whitney has always focused on featuring the contemporary work of American artists, and most American artists today are angry, passionate and opinionated– and the biennial does not attempt to sugarcoat that. The pieces and installations beg the spectator to witness the racism, exclusivity, violence, segregation and capitalist opulence of America today, and pose the question: Now that you know, what will you do? Once you’ve seen it, you can't look away. For reference, see: Jon Kessler (Floor 5), Rafa Esparza (Floor 1), John Divola (Floor 5), Deanna Lawson (Floor 6), Henry Taylor (Floor 6), Ajay Kurian (Stairwell), and many more.
2) Artists Are Generous Another thing that you would be quick to notice at the Biennial is that artist are generously sharing their platform and opportunities with other artists. By this, we mean that when the curator asked a particular artist to take part in this year’s biennial, many of those artists, in turn, asked other artists to form part of their installation or piece. This has created a sort of installation-within-the-installation theme for this year. It's very refreshing to be reminded of how art can create community when an artist isn’t looking to merely cater to their own ego. For reference, see: Occupy Museums (Floor 5), and John Riepenhoff (Floor 5), Frances Stark's study of the book Censorship Now (Floor 5)
3) The Whitney Is Committed To Diversity More than any other major museum in New York City, the Whitney opens its doors to artists of all colors and genders. The history of the art world is notoriously male and white, and sadly, museums with historical pieces remain quite true to that standard. The Whitney however, in the freedom it provides to be contemporary, changes those standards and gives a voice to those who were (and remain) voiceless in the art world.
For reference, see: Rafa Esparza (Floor 1), Deanna Lawson (Floor 6), Henry Taylor (Floor 6)
4) The Irony of the Art World is Alive and Well It’s pretty hilarious to see a very politically charged piece criticizing the sharp claws of capitalist oppression, only to find that in the bottom corner of the wall, in small print, reads: SPONSORED BY TIFFANY & CO. AND CHASE BANK. This is a major LOL moment for me and never fails to be a sobering reminder of how the art world works. Not that these sponsorships minimize the incredibly important work the Biennial is displaying– it’s just always weird to be reminded that in fact, we do live in a society built on capitalism, and if it weren’t for the immense contributions banks and major companies and corporations make to museums, we might not have been able to come into contact with this important art.
5) Art and Technology Have Merged Most contemporary art these days is either making a commentary on technology or actively incorporating it into the work. Considering screens and wireless connections have become an inescapable fact of life in the last fifteen years, digital has not only become a big theme in art, rather the medium itself. While some people resist this merge and prefer a classical approach to art, the Biennial fully embraces it. For reference, see: Jon Kessler (Floor 5), Jordan Wolfson’s virtual reality (Floor 6) warning: extremely graphic