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Special Edition: Whitney Biennial
by ArtSlant Team



Sarah Michelson, Devotion Study #1—The American Dancer, February 26, 2012 at 2012 Whitney Biennial, Photograph © Paula Court.

A Biennial Timeline lovingly compiled by Andrew Berardini 

After reading over eighty years of articles about the Whitney Museum of American Art's series of annuals and biennials, one almost wonders, "Could they actually have been that bad?" Exempting this latest edition, the Whitney has, so as we can tell, the longest ongoing tradition in contemporary art of people really, really hating it.

In an act of rebellion, we've decided to love the Whitney Biennial, not piece-by-piece, but the whole institution. We've always had a soft spot for unloveables. 

What follows is a short list of critical viewpoints and other milestones in the history of this peculiar institution in American contemporary art. 

Wu Tsang (b. 1982), Production still from WILDNESS, 2012 (in progress). High-definition video, color, sound. © Wu Tsang; courtesy the artist.

1932: The very first of the Whitney's series of Annuals and Biennials begins as a once-a-year affair.  It is also begins the tradition of the critics hating it: "Indeed, no more telling evidence of the deplorable state of American art has ever been assembled," reported Charles Craven in The New York Herald Tribune.

1939: Time Magazine on 1939 Sculpture Annual: "Last week the 1939 show opened, and by the time the critics had written their reviews, the droop became a full-fledged wither." Some things never do change. 
1946: Jackson Pollock makes his Whitney debut. Some people actually start to care about American art. Clement Greenberg commented at the time "This year's Whitney Annual is no worse that last year's, which amounts almost to an improvement, since each of the annuals in the three or four years previous had been worse than the one before it."

1949: The New Yorker: "a sequence of lapidarian perfection as is rarely encountered in the haphazard array of a group exhibition." We were stoked by the word "lapidarian" as well as the rare compliment; it almost didn't matter that we hadn't heard of practically anybody in the review.

1953: After participating in seven Annuals in five years, Mark Rothko refuses to be in the Whitney Annual.

1957: Mark Rothko turns down an invitation to the Whitney Annual (again).
...Click here for the complete chronology (wait 'til you see what the critics say about the 2012 Biennial).

See you at the Whitney!

–the ArtSlant Team


BIENNIAL WATCH - Georgia Sagri

Georgia Sagri, The Invisible Ones, Performance at Anthony Reynolds Gallery, 2008. Courtesy of the artist and Anthony Reynolds Gallery.

Hannah Daly recently sat down with Whitney Biennial artist Georgia Sagri to talk about her installation and performance work, her dedication to the Occupy cause, and political issues in her home country of Greece.

...HD: What you were saying earlier about how to resituate the artist as a performer, as an authority...

GS: It’s not about making anyone an authority, it’s about making yourself a  point of departure for situations to occur, a link. Think of yourself as a satellite...

Read more about Sagri's work in this week's Rackroom interview.


FROM THE ARCHIVE - Biennial Artists Reviewed

The ArtSlant LA team has kept their eyes on several artists featured in this year's Biennial. Read their reviews of previous exhibitions below:

Nicole Eisenman, The Breakup, 2011, 56" x 43". Courtesy of the artist and Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects.

Nicole Eisenman's Human Touch by Kate Wolf - "Part of Eisenman’s gift is her ability to wind myriad references to other painters and paintings tightly enough into her own work that they give way to a distinctive style and fictive sense of time. Still, there’s something vaguely vintage about many of these, making the sparing use of contemporary signifiers like Tea Party members or cell phones, as in The Breakup, 2011, more pronounced but in a compelling way: a reading of the current state of today’s isolation on the neutral surface of art’s eternity, or something like it."

Dawn Kasper, THIS COULD BE SOMETHING IF I LET IT, 2012, from the series Nomadic Studio Practice Experiment, 2009- Three-month durational performance and multimedia installation, Dimensions variable, Collection of the artist. Performances: March 23; May 4 & 25.

The Recent Performances of Dawn Kasper by Julian Hoeber - "In one of the last performances of Dawn's I saw before this week she crashed her truck by accident on a street in Chinatown in July 2009; she had been mostly naked save for a trenchcoat and sneakers. She was standing in the bed of her truck yelling at people outside of a gallery and smashing shit. She recited lines from a Fugazi song loudly. She walked in circles around her truck, jumped back in and and squealed off into the night. We all heard the car crash. She ran an intersection. It was fucking nuts."

BIENNIAL EXPERIENCE - Testing the Boundaries

by Natalie Hegert 

Oscar Tuazon, For Hire, 2012 Mixed media, Dimensions variable, Collection of the artist; courtesy Maccarone, New York.

“Be advised that the fourth floor galleries will be closing in about fifteen minutes for Sarah Michelson’s performance,” I was told when I arrived at the Whitney ticket counter, “So you should probably begin your visit there.” Yeesh. Fifteen minutes for an entire floor?  I’d better hurry, I thought, as I dashed to the elevator. 

On the fourth floor, one of Michelson’s dancers was warming up, stretching her limbs out with a couple quick pas-de-bourrées over the dance floor—a site-specific work in itself: the architectural plans for the museum were painted on the floor, dance floor as map, as blue-print. Watching the dancers warm up before their performances was a part of the piece, I gathered, but wondered why the gallery had to be emptied of visitors two hours before the actual performance. Warm ups we could watch, but not rehearsals? No chance of getting a ticket to the actual performance—all tickets had been reserved for weeks now. (I later ran into a couple of friends in the café a couple hours later who were waiting on stand-by for tickets. I’m not sure if they got in.) I felt sort of bad for the other artists whose artworks were installed on that floor as I was ushered out by a rather stern looking, non-plussed museum guard.

Nick Mauss, Concern, Crush, Desire, 2011, Cotton appliqué on velvet, brass doorknobs and doorstoppers, 131 x 94 x 115 in. Collection of Nicoletta Fiorucci; courtesy 303 Gallery, New York, and Galerie Neu, Berlin.

I spent the rest of my visit to the 2012 Biennial alternately looking at art and being scolded by the museum guards for various boundaries I was apparently breaching. This iteration of the Whitney Biennial promises the “breakdown of boundaries between art forms” in its radical agglomeration of artists working in disparate fields, not only in visual art, but in music, performance, dance, and film. This breakdown of boundaries makes this Biennial an ever-changing, fluctuating three-month-long event that will look and feel different for each visitor on any given day, but also breaks down the boundaries between viewer and art object, installation, performance, what-have-you. This presents the visitor with unique challenges, equivocations, hesitations and confusions regarding the works of art and their thresholds and borders, not to mention the aggravation added to the duties of the museum guards.

For more on the Biennial experience, click here.

Thank you to the Whitney Museum and all of the galleries, organizations, institutions, curators and artists who bring us this Biennial extravaganza.


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Posted by ArtSlant Team on 3/29/12

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