At Whitney Biennial previews this week, many were quick to note that Pope.L’s installation smelled really bad. The reason for this was the 2,755 slices of bologna pinned to its walls, which, even on day one, already appeared a little nasty, their orange, oily juices pooling in small basins that run along the floor. As it turns out, however, the meat is “curing,” not rotting.
A representative for Mitchell-Innes & Nash, the New York gallery that represents Pope.L, confirmed to ARTnews that the bologna will not be replaced. It will, for many viewers, likely continue to be pungent. (When I visited the installation again, its scent had not diminished.) Expect its smell to change somewhat—possibly for the better, possibly for the worse, depending on the viewer’s sense of smell.
The gallery noted that Pope.L went through a “delicate process” to arrange the meat and that in the installation—titled Claim (Whitney Version)—the bologna is a pun: a material being cured, in reference to healing.
The piece focuses on how entire groups of people with a collective identity can turn abstract through numbers. For the artist, the number of bologna slices refers to the percentage of Jewish citizens in New York, but a written text tells us that his numbers are “a bit off” and that he has deliberately messed with his data. Over time, each piece of bologna, affixed with a photograph of a person who may or may not be Jewish, will twist as it cures, making the marker of identity—Jewish identity or any identity, it seems—unrecognizable.