Welcome to the Whitney Museum
The Biennial continues through June 11, 2017
A bit of controversy surrounds the new Whitney Biennial because of Dana Schutz's painting of an open casket. In fact instant death seems to be a factor for imagery that you might find in this museum show. You might come to feel that reflections on society from these selected artists is a way to face facts, and they are not pretty. People who confuse art with beauty might walk away from this show shaking their heads.
Painting by Henry Taylor
Henry Taylor's paintings are a case in point. He does not turn away from making a direct and powerful approach to the kind of violence we read in the headlines, repeated again, and again. The title of the work above says it clearly enough: THE TIMES THEY AINT A CHANGING, FAST ENOUGH....
Pope.L "Claim" ( Whitney Version ), 2017
Then, there are some funny situations that happen in the Biennial, and I am thinking of Pope.L's "Claim" ( Whitney Version ) from this year, and it is possible to see this as a mockery of formalism - a literal room full of baloney ( though one piece I see was already missing from this display ). Nothing would stop this artist from realizing this vision - just to see what would happen - and I wonder what Donald Judd would have said...? Judd would be refreshed if he went out on the balcony and viewed the installation of Larry Bell's "Pacific Red".
Larry Bell's " Pacific Red "
Also at the Biennial there is a kind of "homage to the square" to use a term from Albers, and this marks a return to the grid, in these wood carvings by Matt Browning from 2016. These finely carved works all came from carving a solid block of wood to form interlocking bars that would make an artist like Sol Lewitt very happy.
Carvings by Matt Browning ( 2016 )
At the other extreme there are several works hanging in another part of the show that are very large and much more organically organized. I am thinking about the mixed media sculpture by a pair of artists called Kaya. The prevailing color is black, and the materials all are reflective, and tend to remind me of the expressive and figurative works that we will visit at the end of this post.
One of a series from Kaya
John Kessler is an artist whose work I have followed in the past and he has two installations on the floor of the Biennial. "Exodus" is a carousel of kitsch that is under continual surveillance ( projected on a wide screen in real time ), and "Evolution" has figures who seem to be snorkeling in a digital wave pattern projected on screens that mimic the movement of water.
Jon Kessler's " Exodus", a carousel of kitsch
There is so much to see, but I don't have time to wait in long lines that queue up for a virtual reality experience or the many videos playing in darkened rooms. I was more attracted to the paintings of Shara Hughes, like "We Windy" that seems like a homage to David Hockney.
"We Windy" by Shara Hughes
Painting is also alive and well in the hands of an artist like Carrie Moyer, and yet the energy in this Biennial can be felt in other ways. I was very attracted to the show but it is difficult to find a pattern or see any prevailing trends at the Whitney. Another installation in the Biennial requires a sunny day and you can see that here in the photo of a collaborative work in the windows which project shadows in a unique and interesting manner.
"Reflections " 2017 from Casey Gollan and Victoria Sobel
On our way out of the Whitney we stopped in front of two paintings that kind of summarize a modern condition and it takes these two paintings in contrast to each other to tell a story. One floor above the Biennial, in the show called "Human Interest" there are two figurative paintings - one by DeKooning ( see below )
Willem DeKooning, "Woman With A Bicycle" 1952
And then there is another's artist's interpretation of this painting which caused a fuss. The second version is by the painter Peter Saul who had many shows at the Frumkin Gallery on 57th Street in Manhattan that I attended going back into the early 1960's. He is still working away on these really wild works that seem so idiosyncratic, but also so wonderfully wacky. And that is how it is at the Whitney Museum of Art.
Peter Saul's 1976 Acrylic on linen of
de Kooning's Woman with Bicycle