Compared to the previous exhibitions which were marked by large public protests, The Whitney 2019 Biennial, seeks to strike a balance in the exhibiting artists as well as be a little ‘safer’ with the showcasing works. As history dictates, the biennial is no stranger to controversies. Dating back to 1944, it was criticized for having too much ‘fantasy art’ while in 1946, it was said be too ‘overwhelmingly modernist’ for having too much ‘abstraction’. In the year 1987, it was criticized as protests erupted for having only 24% female artists in the program. In 1993, the biennial was held accountable for being too ‘political’. In its 2017 exhibition, it was marked by protests over a portrait of the mutilated body of Emmett Till by a white artist, Dana Schutz. Many saw the painting as an exploitation of black suffering. With this year biennial, could we say, so far so good? Well, this year had a protest take place even before the Biennial opened on 17th May, over the Vice Chair of the Museum, Warren B Kanders’ ownership of a tear gas manufacturing company. As a result of the protest, one of the 75 participating artists, Chicago-based Michael Rakowitz, withdrew from the biennial. Rakowitz said that participating in the biennial despite Kanders’ revelation, made him feel like he would be betraying everything that he ever cared about in the work he makes.
Here are some of the compelling works that are showcasing :
'Laurie Hernandez I, 2018' by Jeannette Mundt.
The born athlete American artist Mundt, whose works often address the scrutiny of women’s bodies, was drawn to a series of photos dissecting the winning movements of the USA Women’s Gymnastics team, frame by frame in a single image, that was run by the New York Times during the 2016 Olympics in Rio De Janeiro. Inspired by this, she created a series of paintings.
‘Las Nietas De Nonó' by sisters Lydela and Michel Nonó.
The two make up the performance duo ‘Las Nietas De Nonó’, using a mixture of theatrical performance and visual art. They seek to address colonialism and race as their themes.
The image bellow, an illustration from a performance of their piece 'Ilustraciones de la Mecánica', has one of them portrayed as a doctor while the other is a patient prepared for invasive surgery. The performance addressed the history of forced sterilization of women that was sanctioned by the government in Puerto Rico until the 1970s.
'Uh Oh, Look Who Got Wet, 2019' by Janiva Ellis.
Ellis, a surrealist portrait artist’s piece is a painting which captures a woman, carrying a child as she walks across the stream. The child she carries is an animal, a bizarro canine looking creature.
Artist Ellis brings out exhaustion and determination as she shows the woman wading through the stream with will to make it to the other side.
Others works that are showing in this year Whitney’s Biennial are:
Jennifer Packer’s painting.
And works by John Edmonds among many more.