Art Fag City at The L Magazine: The Whitney Biennial, A Failure of Curation

by Paddy Johnson on March 15, 2012 The L Magazine

This week I review The Whitney Biennial for The L Magazine. I dedicated a few more words to the piece than my normal columns because I had a lot to say, though truth be told, I’ll probably post more on the blog as well. I have a lot to say and most of it isn’t positive.

As seen through the eyes of the Whitney, the last two years of American art-making were defined by an enormous amount of mediocre abstract painting, a complete lack of nuanced emotion, and sculpture that mostly looks like nothing. You and I both know that isn't true.

Given the disorganized arrangement of works on display at the Whitney Biennial, though, one can't help seeing much of its work in an unflattering light. I know I keep beating this drum, but curators in this city—starting with Biennial organizers Jay Saunders and Elizabeth Sussman—need to pay a lot more attention to exhibition design, on- and offline.

The performance section of the show—ten artists working in a fourth-floor amphitheatre built specially for the Biennial—is a sad example. It's left without any sort of livestreaming or video documentation, so visitors who can't make it to the exhibition to see all the performances in person are out of luck. Surely, if we've learned anything from Marina Abramovic's blockbuster 2010 performance The Artist is Present, it's that more online documentation, not less, draws in viewers. Two years later, visitors now expect it.

The performances themselves felt as incomplete as the show. The central work, by choreographer Sarah Michelson, has dancers walking backwards in circles for 90 minutes to the beat of a metronome; viewers without a ticket, though, are out of luck. During the press preview, we saw a more motley assortment of works: one woman assumed contemplative poses while wearing a horse head; another cleaned the floor, but the general state of disarray made me unsure whether it was a Mierle Laderman Ukeles reference or a real-life janitor’s pre-show prep. Either way, I got nothing from it.

Read the full piece here.

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