Secrets of the Whitney Biennial: 1979

by Corinna Kirsch on February 28, 2014 Whitney Biennial


Every two years we get a brand-new Whitney Biennial. Each changes, but by how much? I’ve been looking through the Whitney Biennial’s back catalog to find out what’s stayed the same and what’s different. How many women were there? Who were the funders? What’s the average number of curators? I’ll be doing some legwork over the next couple weeks so you’ll know the answers. Today we focus on the 1979 Whitney Biennial, when the show’s curators tried to show more artists living outside of New York.


Title: 1979 Biennial Exhibition

Curators (4 total): John G. Hanhardt, Barbara Haskell, Richard Marshall, Mark Segal, and Patterson Sims

Artists (87 total): Robert Arneson, Alice Aycock, Bruce Baillie, John Baldessari, Jennifer Bartlett, William Beckley, Billy Al Bengston, James Benning, Mel Bochner, Jonathan Borofsky, Stan Brakhage, Robert Breer, Jane Brettschneider, Roger Brown, Barbara Buckner, Deborah Butterfield, Chuck Close, Bruce Conner, Manuel De Landa, Donna Dennis, Dennis Evans, Jackie Ferrara, Kit Fitzgerald, Richard Foreman, Hollis Frampton, Mary Frank, Howard Fried, Gregory Gillespie, Brenda Goodman, Larry Gottheim, Robert Graham, Philip Guston, Walter Gutman, Martha Haslanger, David Haxton, Patrick Hogan, Nancy Holt, Ralph Humphrey, Bryan Hunt, Joan Jonas, Alex Katz, Craig Kauffman, Ellsworth Kelly, Joyce Kozloff, Lois Lane, Sol LeWitt, Roy Lichtenstein, Kim MacConnel, Christa Maiwald, Robert Mangold, Brice Marden, Jonas Mekas, Robert Moskowitz, Elizabeth Murray, Judith Murray, Rita Meyers, Robert Nelson, Philip Pearlstein, Jody Pinto, Kenneth Price, Martin Puryear, Christina Ramberg, Anthony Ramos, Edda Renouf, Rodney Ripps, Dorothea Rockburne, Martha Rosler, Susan Rothenberg, Lucas Samaras, John Sanborn, Barbara Schwartz, Richard Serra, Joel Shapiro, Paul Sharits, Stuart Sherman, Michael Singer, Alexis Smith, Warren Sonbert, Alan Sondheim, Frank Stella, Donald Sultan, James Surls, George Trakas, Bill Viola, H.C. Westermann, Christopher Wilmarth, Jackie Winsor, and Joe Zucker


  • 58 New York-based artists (67 percent)
  • 29 female artists (33 percent)
  • 28 painters (32 percent)
  • 20 sculptors (23 percent)
  • 12 video artists (14 percent)


  • This Whitney Biennial opened on Valentine’s Day.
  • The exhibition was broken up into three separate programs; these took place on different dates and different locations within the museum. (First-floor lobby (video): February 14 – April 1, 1979Second floor (films): February 14 – March 11, 1979 Third floor: February 14 – April 8, 1979 Fourth floor: February 6 – April 1, 1979).
  • The show’s curators were from the Whitney; today the Biennial invites guest curators.In the 1970s, the WhiBi only exhibited art made within the last two years.
  • The NEA supported the Whitney Biennial for the first time. Curators received a travel grant to make studio visits across the States.
  • Here’s something you’d never see listed in the 2014 Whitney Biennial catalog: “Many of the works in the exhibition are for sale. Prices are available at the Information Desk.” Throughout the 1970s, this was standard fare for the Whitney, where visitors would be referred to artists’ galleries. This practice ended with the 1979 Biennial.
  • From the New York Times: Hilton Kramer’s verdict on the Biennial:  “…[T]here is no shortage in the Biennial of the kind of work that conforms to our expectation of what a sculpture or a painting is.” As for the film and video? “[I]t would require a leave of absence to see them all, even if one could summon up the spirit.”

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: