The seventy-eighth installment of the Whitney Biennial has finally arrived at the museums new location in the Meatpacking District in New York City. The exhibition includes sixty-three participating artists which together provide a complete gamut of mediums ranging from painting, installation, performance, film, video game design, sculpture and much more. The participants were carefully selected by the Biennial’s co-curators, Christopher Lew and Mia Locks.
The Whitney Biennial put a stamp on this moment in history and invites its viewers to be a part of it. Sixty-three artists display their interpretation and mood on inequality, social structure, political climate and racial violence. The exhibition challenges and pushes viewers to create a relevant dialog to these times. Questions of self-identity come to mind while walking through the exhibition. Standing in a room packed full of concept driven works among such a cultural diverse group of people makes you ask yourself; What part do I play in all this? It’s easy to feel alienated from artwork. That little grey piece of tape separating you from the work. Allowing yourself to feel like it doesn’t represent you or the state you live in is a simple way to push the artists concept aside. Participation is important while viewing the Whitney Biennial.
After arriving and getting your ticket scanned, you are directed into a large-scale elevator with as many people that can fit. When the doors open to the fifth floor, you are greeted with a Dana Schutz painting approximately as large as the elevator you are stepping out of. The painting depicts a group of people and large insects packed in an elevator. It was truly comical and an unexpected surprise to be experiencing something that you and everyone around you is suddenly relating to.
The initial walk through is exciting, creating an overwhelming feeling of not having enough eyes. Robotics, installations, films hidden around several corners, interactive pieces and of course, paintings. Knowing nearly all these works deserve time and attention is overwhelming. It became clear that galleries with particularly heavy content were often complimented by galleries that relieve you of possible heart ache or anxiety.
Jordan Wolfson’s virtual-reality installation Real Violence has been reported to be shocking and horrifying. The VR piece displays a person getting brutally beaten with a baseball bat in broad daylight on a city street. I personally chose to forgo this piece, but I understand why it is followed by Asad Raza’s Root Sequence, Mother Tongue.
One room I found particularly compelling was on the sixth floor. Deana Lawson and Henry Taylor work together to bring us one of the most cohesive rooms in the Biennial. Large-scale paintings by Henry Taylor depict black history, life, and injustice. Taylor’s paintings are complimented by Lawson’s staged photographs. Her subjects and context extend pieces reminiscent of family photographs. This room brought a little bit of clarity to my question; What part do I play in all this? Lawson and Taylor built a bridge, inviting their viewers who may not have experienced such injustice and hardship to relate and sympathize with people who have.
Curators Christopher Lew and Mia Locks made a choice to only include living artists. The lack of purely aesthetic art is telling of the 2017 biennial. Living in the height of historical turmoil, these artists have utilized their platform. They have sought to connect people through their work by addressing the real issues this country is facing today. That in itself left me feeling optimistic about the future of art.