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Tuan Andrew Nguyen, production photograph for The Island, 2017; Ultra-high-definition video, color, sound; 42:05 min. Collection of the artist; courtesy the artist
Tuan Andrew Nguyen, production photograph for The Island, 2017; Ultra-high-definition video, color, sound; 42:05 min. Collection of the artist; courtesy the artist
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The Progressive Politics of the 2017 Whitney Biennial

Picture of Rachel Gould
Art & Design Editor
Updated: 16 March 2017

As the first Biennial held in the Whitney’s new downtown digs, the highly-anticipated 78th edition of “the longest-running survey of American art,” is, unsurprisingly, steeped in all things politics this year. With 63 contemporary artists presenting an inspired range of artworks, the 2017 Whitney Biennial is an optimistic move towards progression in the face of adversity. 

This year’s Whitney Biennial “arrives at a time rife with racial tensions, economic inequities, and polarizing politics,” the museum of American art explains. Curated by Christopher Y. Lew and Mia Locks, the exhibition, which inhabits two of the Whitney’s expansive floors and beyond, is perhaps best described as thoughtful.

Photography by Scott Rudd © 2016

Christopher Y. Lew and Mia Locks | © Scott Rudd

The curatorial duo have successfully cultivated a group show of 63 contemporary artists from all over the country—some up-and-coming, others established—whose artworks are entirely diverse in aesthetic and medium, yet commonly driven by the discomforting state of modern-day society.

Paintings, sculptures, installation artworks, film, photography, performance art, and more constitute the largest Whitney Biennial to date. Yet, “the exhibition feels much less daunting than recent biennials held in the Breuer building, which often seemed overstuffed and cramped,” Hyperallergic aptly points out. “Credit is largely due to [the curators], who give the work (and visitors) room to breathe.”

Installation view of Raúl De Nieves, beginning & the end neither & the otherwise betwixt & between the end is the beginning & the end, 2016. Whitney Biennial 2017, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, March 13-June 11, 2017. Collection of the artist; courtesy Company Gallery, New York. Photograph by Matthew Carasella.

Installation view of Raúl De Nieves, ‘beginning & the end neither & the otherwise betwixt & between the end is the beginning & the end.’ Whitney Biennial 2017 | © Matthew Carasella / Courtesy Company Gallery, New York

And that’s precisely what this showcase of sincerity needs: the space to speak out freely with room for the viewer to contemplate weighty themes spanning notions of “the self” and “the community.”

Lew explains of this Biennial’s vision: “Throughout our research and travel we’ve been moved by the impassioned discussions we had about recent tumult in society, politics, and the economic system. It’s been unavoidable as we met with artists, fellow curators, writers, and other cultural producers across the United States and beyond.” Subsequently, Locks notes, “against this backdrop, many of the participating artists are asking probing questions about the self and the social, and how they intersect.”

 

Installation view of Rafa Esparza, Figure Ground: Beyond the White Field, 2017. Whitney Biennial 2017, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, March 13-June 11, 2017. Photograph by Matthew Carasella

Installation view of Rafa Esparza’s ‘Figure Ground: Beyond the White Field’. Whitney Biennial 2017 | © Matthew Carasella

Thus the exhibiting artists “test the limits of timeworn structures and protocols, claim space for direct experience and personal agency, and create alternate zones or worlds,” the Whitney explains. From Rafa Esparza’s Figure Ground: Beyond the White Field—a cairn-like mound of adobe bricks created in collaboration with “a group of Brown, queer-identified individuals” whose “bodies are always under attack,”—to Pope L.’s arresting installation of baloney slices on a wall titled Claim, which questions the insatiable need to sub-categorize human beings, the prevailing theme is a call for consciousness; of the self as an entity, and in relation to a much larger and complex social, political, and national context.

The 2017 Whitney Biennial opens to the public on Friday March 17, and will run until June 11, 2017.

Installation view of Pope.L aka William Pope.L, Claim (Whitney Version), 2017. Whitney Biennial 2017, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, March 13-June 11, 2017. Collection of the artist; courtesy Mitchell-Innes & Nash, New York. Photograph by Matthew Carasella.

Pope.L aka William Pope.L ‘Claim’ (Whitney Version) | © Matthew Carasella / Courtesy Mitchell-Innes & Nash, New York

Installation view of Larry Bell, Pacific Red II, 2017. Whitney Biennial 2017, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, March 13-June 11, 2017. Collection of the artist; courtesy Hauser Wirth & Schimmel, Los Angeles. Photograph by Matthew Carasella.

Larry Bell, Pacific ‘Red II’ | © Matthew Carasella / Courtesy Hauser Wirth & Schimmel, Los Angeles

Carrie Moyer, Glimmer Glass, 2016. Acrylic and glitter on canvas, 96 x 78 in. (243.8 x 198.1 cm). Collection of the artist; courtesy DC Moore Gallery, New York

Carrie Moyer, ‘Glimmer Glass’ | Courtesy DC Moore Gallery, New York

Carrie Moyer, Swiss Bramble, 2016. Acrylic and glitter on canvas, 84 x 78 in. (213.4 x 198.1cm). Collection of the artist; courtesy the artist and DC Moore Gallery, New York

Carrie Moyer, ‘Swiss Bramble’ | Courtesy the artist and DC Moore Gallery, New York

Installation view of Harold Mendez, These deeds must not be thought after these ways; so, it will make us mad, 2017. Whitney Biennial 2017, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, March 13-June 11, 2017. Photograph by Matthew Carasella.

Installation view of Harold Mendez, ‘These deeds must not be thought after these ways; so, it will make us mad’ | © Matthew Carasella.

Installation view of Henry Taylor, The 4th, 2012-2017 and THE TIMES THAY AINT A CHANGING, FAST ENOUGH!, 2017. Collection of the artist; courtesy Blum & Poe, Los Angeles/New York/Tokyo. Whitney Biennial 2017, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, March 13-June 11, 2017. Photograph by Matthew Carasella. Installation view of Deana Lawson, Ring Bearer, 2016. Collection of the artist; courtesy Rhona Hoffman Gallery, Chicago, and Sikkema Jenkins & Co., New York. Whitney Biennial 2017, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, March 13-June 11, 2017. Photograph by Matthew Carasella.

Installation view of Henry Taylor, ‘The 4th’, 2012-2017′, ‘THE TIMES THAY AINT A CHANGING, FAST ENOUGH!’ and ‘Ring Bearer’ | © Matthew Carasella.

Installation view of Puppies Puppies, Liberty (Liberté), 2017. Whitney Biennial 2017, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, March 13-June 11, 2017. Photograph by Matthew Carasella.

Installation view of Puppies Puppies, ‘Liberty’ (‘Liberté’) | ©  Matthew Carasella

The Whitney Museum of American Art, 99 Gansevoort Street, New York, NY 10014