Friday, April 4, 2014

"The Whitney Biennial for Angry Women"

Despite my own white male identity--which destiny I am as powerless to reject as anyone of another gender, ethnic origin, or racial identity--I found this critique quite powerful. For some reason my white male identity (I suppose it's superfluous or, worse, an example of the privilege that status affords me, to assert that I've never actually identified with that term) has yet to admit me to a Whitney Biennial.

Here are a few selections from a critique of the Biennial from The New Inquiry:

The Whitney Biennial for Angry Women


"Every two years, the Biennial anoints its debutants for the next round of museum trough feeding. Careers are ignited, financial introductions between artists and the wealthy are made, and Americans are re-educated as to what Art is supposed to mean in this country.

"This is the Whitney Biennial for Angry Women."

"The following quotes are drawn from the curators’ introduction to the Biennial catalogue:

'We hope that our iteration of the Biennial will suggest the profoundly diverse and hybrid cultural identity of America today.'

"Translation: 'The 2014 Whitney Biennial is the whitest Biennial since 1993. Taking a cue from the corporate whitewashing of network television, high art embraces white supremacy under the rhetoric of multicultural necessity and diversity.'"

"The curatorial statement at the entrance to the fourth floor reads:
 "Donelle Woolford [Joe Scanlan] radically calls into question the very identity of the artist…
"Translation: “Joe Scanlan is a white male professor from Yale who created a black female persona to promote his work, because he thinks that black bodies give their owners an unfair advantage on the art market. We are more comfortable with white fantasies of the other than examining lived experience."

"[The white man] understands the world better. That’s why he’s the director, the manager, the CEO, okay? That’s why he is in charge of hiring, and we get to be hired, okay?! It’s just the way that things work. He comes up with the ideas. You get paid to play your part. Do you get paid royalties? Do you become credited in the company? Are you the artist? No. But that’s not the point. The point is that he showed us something old that looked like something new, and we must be grateful. Okay?"

Dear White Curators,

"1. Diversity is not the inclusion of those not from New York. Diversity isn’t more white women. Diversity isn’t safe art. Diversity isn’t black bodies put on display by white artists.

"2. You don’t get to appropriate diversity as a buzzword for your PR work. Besides, we know how to count:

"—There is one black female artist (we refuse to count your fictional black female artist)

"—You put the two Puerto Ricans in the basement …

"—HOWDOYOUSAYYAMINAFRICAN is a collective of 38 mostly black & queer artists but barely gets treated as one artist. How amazing would it be if their 38 people counted as 38 people at the Whitney, which would accord them 40% of the museum’s space? They have been allotted an “evolving” temporary screening slot. They are the largest collective in the Biennial yet their real estate is virtually nonexistent.

"—Gary Indiana, another white male artist trafficking in racist fantasies, receives more space, time and visibility than the 38 members of HOWDOYOUSAYYAMINAFRICAN."

"We need to think about taisha paggett.

"Would the average viewer of the Whitney Biennial know that paggett was in the show? Probably not. Her name haunts the page of the museum guide, she is in “Other Locations.” “Other Locations” is tertiary placement such as: temporary screening schedules, “hallway galleries” and limited-run performances. But this is the Whitney Biennial for Angry Women. And we know she’s there, because we’re intimately familiar with Other Locations. We know she’s there because we set a fine-toothed comb to the catalogue to find her. We didn’t get to see her work in person. We didn’t get to stand with her, moving slowly, feeling our breath. But we can come to rest in her words on the page. To put it in her words, we can think about “a transhistorical, metaphysical her,” because when she talks through her words she speaks our lives back to us. We know this terrain, this terrain of the now. She is the beating heart of what we wish the Whitney was."

To read the entire article click here.


  1. Thanks for sharing this fantastic article, Eddee! Must've missed it in the deluge of Biennial critiques that flood the Internets annually.

  2. Thanks, Mary. I thought it was pretty fantastic myself. Mary Louise Schumacher was the one who brought it to my attention.