Have You Seen the Whitney Biennial This Year?

The Whitney Biennial used to be hit or miss and pack as many artists in as possible. One, maybe two, pieces per artist and no real cohesive plan (at least that’s how it appeared to me in the days of yore).

This time it’s different. There are less artists but more work by each one and there is a cohesive theme that runs through the entire show. This theme reflects the world we are now living in, as the Whitney puts it, filled with “racial tensions, economic inequities, and polarizing politics. Throughout the exhibition, artists challenge us to consider how these realities affect our senses of self and community.” Amen it does.

Cameron Rowland, Public Money, 2017

Cameron Rowland, Public Money, 2017

Though I can’t say that every piece does it for me (now really, when has that been the case anyway), there is some really strong work in there – AND, it all does, or attempts to do, what the theme states. Some of the most compelling work shows how to take responsibility for, and sheds transparency, through projects (and, I have to say, taking responsibility for anything these days is so “splash me in the face” refreshing). For example, Cameron Rowland who documents a Social Impact Bond, also known as a “pay for success” contract, to reduce adult incarceration rates, between the Whitney and Social Finance, Inc. and has all of the paper work framed for all to see including the non-disclosure agreement as well as a copy of the $25,000 wire transfer, holding all accountable. It doesn’t get more transparent than that!

Samara Golden

Samara Golden, The Meat Grinder’s Iron Clothes, 2017

My favorite piece was by Samara Golden who did an amazing installation called The Meat Grinder’s Iron Clothes. The installation is disorienting in that you are looking at a series of building levels that are seemingly incongruous to each other – a penthouse apartment, a dirty and neglected institutional setting, a middle class apartment before or after a party – that you are looking at from an outside edge with mirrors top and bottom and an outside museum window framing the scene, it’s hard to know anything for certain except that there is much disparity and little in common between these scenes except that they are so close yet so isolated from each other.

My inclination is to interpret the title as a hard and messy reverse of The Emperor’s New Clothes. What you see is what it is and there is no pretending that it’s not. Good stuff!

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