|"Claim (Whitney Version) by Pope.L|
During my recent trip to New York, a visit to the Whitney Biennial was at the top of my list. Now in its 78th iteration, the biennial exhibit showcased what American artists are doing right now. Most works in the show were created within the last two years. I was grateful to have docents guide me through the exhibit, which was spread over two floors of the museum.
Edward Hopper's "Early Sunday Morning" (on display
at the Whitney, but not part of the Biennial)
|"Exodus Evolution" by Jon Kessler|
|"Open Casket" by Dana Schutz|
Why, you might ask, is Dana Schutz' portrayal of Till so controversial? Isn't this a moment in history we shouldn't forget? The primary answer is because Ms. Schutz is white. “The subject matter is not Schutz’s,” one African-American artist wrote in a Facebook post. “White free speech and white creative freedom have been founded on the constraint of others..." There were protests in front of the painting, with demands that it be taken out back and burned. The Whitney did not comply with these demands, although it did post a response by Ms. Schutz. Schutz said she approached the work as a mother and that she would never sell the painting. (The protests, however, have surely had the unintended effect of raising Ms. Schutz' profile.) To read more about the controversy, click here.
"The Times Thay Ain't A-Changing Fast Enough!"
by Henry Taylor
Our docent explained that the social commentary in all of Taylor's work should be viewed through the lens of his personal history, which includes a grandfather who was lynched. One commentator suggested that what distinguishes Taylor's paintings from Schutz' "Open Casket" isn't the color of their skin but the seeming departure by Schutz from her typical subject matter. Click here to read this article.
|Detail from PopeL.'s "Claim (Whitney Version)"|
"This work isn't easily explainable by just looking at it," our docent acknowledged as our group peered at the creation. "Claim" (which is just one in a series of similar works) is intended to question the efficacy of data collection and the resulting categorization of individuals. PopeL. grew up with his own number as part of the welfare system. Today he's an associate professor in the Visual Arts Department at the University of Chicago.
The Whitney Bienniale took some work to appreciate. And that's fine with me. In the days since my visit, I've found my thoughts returning to the exhibit as I continue to consider works I saw. While I like a pretty painting as much as the next person, I also enjoy art that makes me think. As I said, the art world would be pretty boring if there were only Monets.