May 10, 2017

Review Panel: The Whitney Biennale

Last Friday, artcritical's Review Panel met to discuss the Whitney Biennale 2017. The conversation was structured into two parts, the first on the Biennale as a whole, an the second on the recent controversy about Dana Schutz's painting of Emmitt Till.

I took notes.

The most interesting idea discussed that night was that the average art fair is better curated than the average biennale. Brute force curation, sheer processing power is certainly a seductive thought. One exception to this would be that a complex institutional exhibition coheres the curatorial agenda. And the exception to that exception is that an art fair coheres to the agenda of an art fair: sales and the power to attract high value collectors. It's sadly an uncontroversial fact that art fairs strongly influence their customers -galleries- as to what can and cannot be shown. This was one of the driving factors to the recent rise and fall of Zombie Art.

But the abiding critique of the Biennale remains, it's razor sharp. What had happened such that our high level cultural, intellectual institutions routinely deliver a diminished product?

As for the controversy about Dana Schutz's painting, elements of both the panel and the audience hazarded the criticism that Schutz's painting was underwhelming as a painting. The overbearing issues about identity appropriation are incapable of finding a resolution, artistic freedom and racial/cultural respect of identity are today's meeting of the immoveable force and the unstoppable object. My opinion? This paradox points to the quality of Schutz's practice. Schutz is an accomplished and acclaimed painter, no one contests this. She came out of the art school chute blazing and dazzling the art world with paintings that seemed to use the power of literature. Her paintings were radiant with dimensions of short stories or novels. That she did this simply using figuration, composition and titles was a wonder to behold.

Over the years, multiple dimensions fell away into a generalized idea about anxiety or human strife. The complex became simplistic and the faint echoes of cubistic fractured planes can't save the day. (BTW, I sense a harmonic oscillation with the discussion about curation above.) Her theme apparently can find any subject as a home: the claustrophobia of an elevator, inchoate shame, or Black pain. Stepping light footed across a lily pad of subjects went wrong when she found that she lacked sufficient gravitas to tread in the radioactive territory of the Emmitt Till story. There are only two alternatives open to her, a tough place to be for an artist. Artists generally are tasked to fight out of tough places. Either she can do nothing and grant her critics her scalp, or she can paint her way out of the controversy.

Yes, I am suggesting that she paint Emmitt Till again and again for a significant cycle of 20 - 50 paintings, get in there deep and discover something about the subject and herself along the way.

But who am I to say this?

A bird tweeting in the tree.

A taker of notes.





Posted by Dennis at May 10, 2017 1:39 PM

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