POST BY PADDY JOHNSON
If the Meet the Biennial Curators press breakfast is any indication — and it never is — this year’s Whitney Biennial will be really great. I maintain an optimistic outlook regardless of whether it’s effective PR spin for a couple of reasons:
- The exhibition isn’t obnoxiously ambitious in scale. Fewer artists mean more space and attention for those participating (a line typically uttered by biennial curators in leaner years, but for a reason, it’s true). I, for one, am excited that the auxiliary Park Armory space of 2008 has been dropped. It complicated the curation and resulted in a lot of extremely poor placement choices in 2008.
- The third floor will be dedicated entirely to film and video, an effective means of dealing with an exhibition that would otherwise require a viewer to switch from spending 30 seconds looking at painting to 20 minutes watching a video. Very few people ever manage to do the latter. *Note: I do not think placing the film and video in one place will simply create an entire floor for people to skip.
Counterpoint: In a perfect world the third floor would showcase new media art as well, but there is no net art in this biennial. This, to my mind, is an indication that the curators aren’t looking outside the usual circles for new work.
- The biennial will focus on exhibiting work that has either not been seen before or was made specifically for the exhibition. I like this approach. It’s risky — the curators don’t know what they’re getting in advance, so the possibility of a stinker is higher — but it’s also proven a great way of supporting truly innovative work that wouldn’t have been made otherwise.
- The new Fifth floor exhibition “Collecting The Biennial” showcases work collected by the museum from the biennials over the years. It is EXCELLENT. Amongst other successes, the show illuminates how the biennial has supported certain artists throughout the years. Some artists have participated in five or more iterations.
It’s probably a sign of the times, but I like the curators Francesco Bonami and Gary Carrion-Murayari humble approach to the show. Collecting the Biennial provides a good starting point for the biennial discussion, highlighting both good and bad work. “It shows how taste changes,” Francesco Bonami explained while gesturing to a gaudy Julian Schnabel painting he says they thought was “forever.” “It was not,” he concluded succinctly.
He’s mostly right, though after a while, the velvet painting began to remind me of the slightly crooked tooth an old boyfriend never had corrected. Objectively the tooth was unattractive, but I grew to find it cute nonetheless. I felt relieved he wasn’t perfect and grew to believe this and other small flaws gave me a better understanding of him. Similarly, in this exhibition the flaws and failures of the museum are just as engaging as its success. The hope is that same will be true of this year’s biennial.