The show, increasingly typified by controversial resistance art, is presenting a mostly safe front this year despite a growing protest over a Whitney trustee
When the doors open on the sixth floor of the Whitney Museum of American Art, the first thing one sees is a snowman painting by Calvin Marcus. Its an underwhelming statement for the Whitney Biennial, arguably Americas most politically charged art event, which opens on Friday.
The curators, Jane Panetta and Rujeko Hockley, both staffers at the museum, wanted to take a more subtle approach for this 79th edition of the biennial, which features 75 artists, half of whom are women. Despite the countrys political upheaval and the looming elections in 2020, it comes as a surprise that resistance art is so little represented.
While artists didnt go the Trump route, theyre looking at history, the parallel histories in this country, and thinking how to harness what we learned or didnt learn, and then are looking to the future, said Panetta in the museums boardroom this week. Its something we knew we wanted to have.
The Whitney Biennial has always been the punching bag of all biennials. Controversy dates back to 1944, when it was criticized for having too much fantasy art, and in 1946 it was too overwhelmingly modernist for including too much abstraction. In 1987, protests erupted after female artists accounted for only 24% of the program and in 1993, the biennial was accused of being too political.
It seemed at the time, the public werent ready for a museum exhibition that overtly responded to urgent issues of the day; poverty, Aids, racism, homophobia and class lines, said the Whitneys director, Adam Weinberg. Sadly, these issues all continue to remain in the present. We continue to address them head on.