The Whitney Biennial aims to keep the focus on artists but cannot escape politics
13th May 2019 11:29 BST
via The Art Newspaper
The Whitney Museum has turned to two in-house curators to put together a show that celebrates diversity in American art—but as in 2017, the biennial is already mired in controversy
The Whitney Biennial in New York often proves a pressure cooker for US social politics, especially since the curator Elizabeth Sussman’s landmark 1993 edition directly tackled the Reagan-era Culture Wars with provocative works by women and LGBTQ artists. The last edition in 2017 was marked by protests prompted by the white artist Dana Schutz’s depiction of Emmett Till, a black teenager who was lynched in 1955. The episode remains a hot-button issue for the biennial’s organisers two years later.
Jane Panetta and Rujeko Hockley, the curators behind the 2019 edition, are perhaps unusually positioned to navigate these tricky political waters. In a departure from previous editions, where guest curators have been brought in, this year’s organisers are on staff and know first-hand the controversies that the biennial can inspire.
“We’ve tried to use the challenges and conversations that came out of the last [edition] as a productive lens for our work,” Panetta says. To that end, there is a great deal of work in the show that grapples with socio-political concerns around race and gender, financial inequality, gentrification and the vulnerability of the body.