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Whitney Biennial

A VERY SHORT HISTORY OF THE WHITNEY BIENNIAL

by Charlie Finch
 
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Now that Occupy Wall Street has officially called for the Whitney Museum to cancel its next biennial in 2014 (you know, OWS, I have enough trouble dealing with 2012, but that's just me), one must ask, "Is such a request necessary?", for, via its redundancy and frequency, the Whitney Biennial long ago cancelled itself.

Gaping back down memory lane, bits and pieces re-emerge. Was it Jenny Holzer who did the "ostrich with its head in the ground" wallpaper that was the signature trope of the 1989 edition? Whatever happened to John Schabel, whose snaps reminiscent of the William Shatner Twilight Zone episode, with the monster on the wing of the plane, starred in 1997?

I am old enough to remember attending the Whitney Annual, which was kind of a mediocre successor to the old National Academy of Design Annual (one year painting, the next sculpture), both of which were not different from the Washington Square Art Show or, in terms of retro boredom, the Oscars.

The best biennial year, actually, was 1999, when there was no biennial, because then-Whit Director David "Wangdoodle" Ross postponed it to the year 2000. What is most surprising about the Whitney Biennial, and its greatest asset, is how many artists quickly plunge into obscurity after inclusion in this "selective" show. Like that Brian guy who did those sguiggly snake sculptures in the 1995 Klaus Kertess edition, or the big star of the last biennial (which I liked, but can't actually remember), the woman from Oregon with the sofas.

Maybe the solution to the biennial's identity problem is to include only dead artists (market play, permanent name recognition), so that, to be included (sick joke alert!), artists would have to commit suicide before being chosen. Then Sturtevant could memorialize them by hanging, their work in a dark room, like she did in the 2006 version? Or was it 2008? It's all a blur.

“The Whitney Biennial 2012,” Mar. 1-May 27, 2012, at the Whitney Museum of American Art, 945 Madison Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10021.


CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).


 



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