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Monday, January 28, 2013

The Whitney Biennial

2012 Whitney Biennial, sculpture and paintings by Vincent Fecteau and Andrew Masullo.
We artists all enter juried art shows from time to time. It's fun.  It's like legalized gambling for artists. Ya pays ya money and ya takes ya chances. Worse, there is an inverse relationship between your chances of even getting in, and the prestige of the show. The greater the prestige, the more artists enter, the higher the entry fee, and the greater the unlikelihood you're art will be selected. Of course, just getting in doesn't guarantee any more than some bragging rights, perhaps a few column inches in your local paper, and the hassle of shipping or delivering your work. Naturally, the big payoff comes with a possible prize or maybe a sale. It's a little better odds than the lottery, but not by much.

Hearsay of the Soul, 2012,  Werner Herzog
The really prestigious shows in this country you can count on the fingers of one hand...two if you want to be generous. There's the Carnegie, and the Whitney...and a couple more on the West coast, one or two in the midlands, one I think in Seattle, and another one in Texas, but otherwise, they're all pretty much back room poker games for the locals.  This past year it was the Whitney Biennial which occupied center stage, from March 1, 2012 through May 27.  This year's show had four co-curators, writers and museum directors from various parts of the country. They met and compromised, and the result has been declared everything from mildly interesting to downright bland by writers and art people who get paid big bucks to decide such things. Jerry Saltz of the New Yorker  called it: "...a quiet, incomplete manifesto."  Not exactly a rave review.

Despite all the multi-media
installations, there were
still a few "traditional"
paintings such as Tom Thayer's
This Life is Nothing More Than
Waiting for the Sky to Open, 2011.
This is not good.  In previous years the show has been called “grim,” “flimsy,” and “pious.” Thus there were no TV cameras shooting lines wrapped around the block, no vandalism, no art short, nothing to write home about. The show was mostly politically correct, ecumenical, independent, eclectic, geographically diverse, with bows to all media, and endorses an almost mathematical sexual diversity. Actually, there were more women artists in the show this past year than there were men. It blithely does what Biennials are suppose to do, report on the art scene from across the country. The difficulty is, there's not much to report. There were a few hot artist like Matthew Barney, Glenn Ligon, Janine Antoni, Charles Ray, Robert Gober, Charles Atlas, Mike Kelley, and Andrea Fraser, a few veterans like Werner Herzog and Mike Kelley, but most were relatively unknown, including a few who should remain that way. Almost like a convention, there was a delegation from Texas, one from California, and another from the East coast, with the rest of the 51 lucky ducks having been elected "at large." And for this they charge fourteen to eighteen bucks, unless you're under 18, then it's free. I might cross the street, but I wouldn't make a special trip to the "big apple" just to see it. I'll wait for this year's Carnegie International in October. Besides, for me at least, Pittsburgh is closer.
Working the No Work (detail), 2011, Georgia Sagri--more process than product.

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