Social commentary holds sway in the 2017 Whitney Biennial, the first of the bi-annual surveys of American art to unfold in the museum’s new downtown building. Curators Christopher Y. Lew and Mia Locks selected the artists whose works will inhabit both galleries and liminal spaces, including the lobby and stairwell, windows, hallways and terraces, for the next three months.
The biennial features projects by sixty-three individuals and collectives. More than half explore current political, economic and social issues. Cauleen Smith’s banners greet you with slogans and symbols at the entrance and on the fifth floor. Ajay Kurian’s creatures haunt the stairwell. Gollan and Sobel subvert window front messaging and Jon Kessler’s assemblage comments on immigration politics. *The wall-sized Debtfair installation by Occupy Museums makes the case for a massive debt strike against some of the same financial institutions that fund the museum and this biennial. Claim, William Pope.L’s visceral wall grid made of decaying baloney slices affixed with photocopied snapshots, is definitely the most pungent, if not the most polemic. We found more subtle critique in paintings by Henry Taylor and the photography of Deana Lawson, juxtaposed in the same gallery. Performance and installation by Puppies Puppies make powerful statements, too.
Abstract and reflective works offer room to breathe, inviting visitors to step back from the chaos and confrontation of the real world. Carrie Moyer’s lush compositions immerse the viewer in expanses of bold color and graphic shapes. A collaborative film collage by Leslie Thornton and James Richards offers a meditative shadow play. Larry Bell’s red cubes give the Whitney’s cold grey terrace a jolt of color. Suspended both inside and out, Ulrike Müller’s beautiful enamel works are a bodily experience. With his stained glass windows, Raúl de Nieves transforms the galleries facing the East Terraces on the 5th floor into a sacred space while commenting on class and belief systems. On the 6th floor’s sunlit gallery, Asad Raza‘s Root Sequence, Mother Tongue will bloom and grow during the run of the exhibition, serving as the stage for a series of special performances and events.
Photos by Tamara Rafkin, except where noted.
Our podcast episode with Occupy Museums: 2017