A Word From the Curators of the Whitney Biennial

by Art Fag City on May 18, 2006 Events

Sometime ago I wrote a piece that questioned the curatorial practice of Chrissie Iles and Phillipe Vergne. The post can be read here, but among other things I had relayed information that they had overstepped their boundaries as curators by offering suggestions to artist Jesus Bubu Negron as to what he could do with his piece. In retrospect, the truth of the matter is that I probably over stepped my own as a blogger, as I don’t think this added anything significant to the discourse on how curator practice is evolving, and the piece undoubtedly reads as a personal attack.

Chrissie Iles contacted me yesterday in regards to this post, and through our conversation, we decided the response she sent me should be posted. My thoughts on the Whitney Biennial as a whole, have not changed, but I will say that my original post was neither fair to the artist, who was not aware of it prior to publication or the curators who without todays “forum” (for lack of a better word) would not otherwise have a chance to respond.

Dear Paddy Johnson,

I was taken aback by your post about Philippe Vergne and myself “offering suggestions” for what Jesus Bubu Negron could do for the 2006 Whitney Biennial on your recent blog, and the implication that we stepped away from our curatorial role into that of an artist. I wanted to let you know that this is completely untrue. When we were not able to present the piece that Bubu Negron had first proposed to us for legal reasons (it involved gambling on the sidewalk, which is illegal in New York State, and we could not get a permit) we asked Bubu to give us some alternative proposals. Discussions took place back and forth, with the eventual result that you see in the current Whitney Biennial. As has always been the case with our respective curating, we followed the clear and obvious understanding that artists make art, and curators present it. Neither of us would ever, ever presume to step into any other role — nor would we be interested in doing so. In conversations that take place between artist and curator with regard to a new proposal, the curator is there strictly as a sounding board. In studio visits, or in new commissions where artist and curator work closely together, the artist will often ask for opinions and feedback. In this dialogue, the curator may be called on to help clarify and solve problems — not to step from one role into another.

I hope this clarifies the situation.

With kind regards,

Chrissie Iles

Anne and Joel Ehrenkranz Curator

Whitney Museum of American Art

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