Since 1932, the Whitney Museum of American Art’s biannual survey of contemporary art has been one of its most reliably exciting shows, due to its patronage of young talentand yearbook effect of collective memory. Sometimes sheltered under an umbrella curatorial, sometimes not, the biennial always seeks to identify important American art now—in other words, its proposition is as baldly general as a US institutional exhibition can get.
Next year’s edition, simply called “2010,” supposedly has no organizational theme—although it’s a year that self-consciously marks the end of a rather trying decade, and is a re-arrangement of the numbers in the iconic year “2001.” Published on December 11, the shortlist of 55 artists has been widely noted for its brevity (it is a significant reduction from 100 in 2006 and 81 in 2008), which is ascribed like everything to creaky market economics.
But if maximalism and globalization are passé exhibition topics, as curators Francesco Bonami and Gary Carrion-Murayari have insisted, then the premise of “2010” may also be a chilly response to the New Museum’s “Younger than Jesus” triennial earlier this year, which borrowed more than a few Whitney biennial alums (Ryan Trecartin, Matt Keegan) and its make-or-break-spotlight on young people. Participating artists work in all media, range in age from 23 to 75, and some have taken part in biennials before. While a few site-specific projects are planned (Jeffrey Inaba, Martin Kersels) each individual will have only one work (or series) in the show, in what could amount to yearbook-like rationing. The Park Avenue Armory, which two years ago hosted a generally well-liked annex to the Biennial, will see no spillover next year. The Biennial’s, restrained selection of artists, less than hooky theme, and generally straightforward organization seem further suggestion that “2010” is an exhibition less about propelling its place in history than preserving it.
Whatever the participant’s stock-and-trade eccentricity, it’s difficult not to assign profiles for selected artists. A handful of the 2010 artists engage politics, ranging in interest from race to gender to nationalism. Sharon Hayes’s and Emily Roysdon each explore politics in and out of a collective identity. (Roysdon, with Tauba Auerbach, is a “Younger than Jesus” repeat). There are promising, relatively well-known young artists without New York representation (Alex Hubbard, Aurel Schmidt), and Biennial repeats (Ari Marcopoulos, 2004; Josephine Meckseper, 2006). Richard Aldrich and Josh Brand work in different styles of quiet, literary abstraction; they’re also collaborators and both have received a lead review in ArtForum. Charles Ray is having a definitive moment, which was initiated by his sculpture, The Boy with the Frog, being installed before the Punta Della Dogana in Venice. Among the younger and lesser-known artists are Aki Sasamoto (an exciting dance/performance artist with an intimate stylr) and French-born experimental filmmaker Babette Mangolte, who in the 1970s she documented the work of Philip Glass and Marina Abramovic.
Notable without-type inclusions are Lorraine O’Grady, whose Mlle Bourgeoise Noire (1980) performances critically depended on her social exclusion from uptown openings. O’Grady’s frank criticism and frustration: “THAT’S ENOUGH! […] No more pos…turing […] BLACK ART MUST TAKE MORE RISKS!!!” were successful enough to keep her largely out of the mainstream until MOCA’s seminal exhibition “WACK! Art and the Feminist Revolution” in 2007. Robert Williams scores points for West Coast art and the Lowbrow movement. An oil painter and member of the Zap Collective (underground cartoonists associated with Zap Comix in the1960s), he founded the San Francisco-based skater rag Juxtapoz, collaborates on a limited editions of sneakers for Vans, and indulges a propensity for painting figurative disaster scenes populated by “nekkid ladies” (as spelled in his Wikipedia entry).
Robert Grosvernor hails from the Conceptual end of the spectrum, ensuring a sum-total of traditional, unconventional, and further in-between “2010” artists. Artists hail from both coasts (and beyond), including Portland-based Storm Tharp, and a middle-states contingent headed by a Chicago cohort (Bonami was senior curator of the Museum of Contemporary Art from 1999 to 2008) promises to articulate some quintessential American-ness. But is it too ambitionless for a decade-concluding art show?
The Whitney released a video short to announce the 2010 list, in which Bonami and Carrion-Murayari read aloud the names of the selected artists, the former with wildly Italianate intonation and the latter a deadpan Gregorian. Shot in various corners of the museum, the vignette invokes the playfulness of limitation. 15 seconds in, Bonami shouts from the Madison Avenue entrance bridge, “Nina Berman! Huma Bhabha! Josh Brand! Bruce High Quality Foundation! James Casepere!” Meanwhile, Carrion-Murayari’s words reverberate easily through the Whitney’s gift shop. The significant variations in sonic environment are the video’s appeal, and this in-versus-out allegory interprets the role of exclusion in curating any exhibition. “2010” will be staged entirely within the museum, which Herbert Muschamp once called a “building about listening.” That so much can be done with so little is a good message, indeed.
THE WHITNEY BIENNIAL IS ON VIEW FEBRUARY 25—MAY 30, 2010.