Whitney Biennial 2022

Here are some works in the 80th biennial review at the Whitney Museum, NY of art created on the North American continent  in the last several years and chosen over the last 3. 

 

59 artists in total of whom 16 were born abroad, 3 live in Mexico and 2 in Canada.  Several ethnic groups.

 

Paintings, textiles, ceramic, sculpture, video, beadwork, and mixed media.

 

The subject is the country’s vast economic and social inequities.  And the hypocrisy which allows no meaningful correction decade after decade.

 

One such inequity is the long fight by museum staff, including the Whitney’s, whose union, established in the summer of 2021, has still not been able to negotiate a contract acceptable to its members.

 

Many of them are classified in such a way that they receive no benefits and can be fired at will.  

 

Nothing has been done, according to staff, to correct this to date.  No decision-maker at the museum has offered to sit down with the union.

 

But the show goes on.

 

 

 

Whitney workers in March 2022 as the Biennial was opening. Photo from the net.

 

 

 

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The paintings chosen have ushered us back to abstraction.  

 

There are two or three representational paintings; and there is one lonely dog to represent the glorious figurative tradition of the ‘West.’

  

 

 

Detail of 2.00 am, 2021, watercolour on paper.

Danielle Dean, American born 1982

 

 

 

Such a wholescale return to abstraction is disappointing.  Not least because there has come a generation of artists who have dedicated themselves to figuration. 

 

James Little, a Black artist who has been making art since the 1970s and who has 5 paintings in this exhibition, says that abstraction liberated him.

 

I take this to mean that abstraction is, in part, a liberation from the ghettoization and ruckus about race relations which often accompany the figurative art of minorities.

 

He is not the only artist to make this point in this Biennial.

 

You cannot help but be sympathetic with techniques and languages which make people free.

 

But this emotional and intellectual attachment to abstraction also points to the largest problem with abstraction.

 

Abstract artists ask you to unmoor yourself and travel into their world which they have represented with idiosyncratic marks on the material of their choice.  It is all about them.

 

In this Biennial, very few abstract works offer any reason why you should do so.  The abstract painting here is mostly shallow and self-referential and boring.

 

Some works come with long titles or lengthy museum explanatory wall tags, dense with museum jargon, as if to cover the lack of substance or an incoherence of the work being described.

 

 

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What I have said about the abstract painting in this Biennial does not apply to the extraordinary abstract murals of

 

Denyse Thomases, the Trinidadian-Canadian artist whose life was cut short when she was still young.

 

She developed an emotive abstract language to represent her subject matter:

 

the loss of freedom among enslaved populations;

 

and the anguish of solitary confinement in North American jails where a disproportionate number of minorities, specifically African American males, are imprisoned. 

 

These paintings are thought to have had personal resonance for her, also.  Her parents emigrated from Trinidad to Canada to face racism and isolation.  

 

 

Jail,1993, acrylic on canvas., 1993.

Denyse Thomasos, 1963 -2012, Trinidadian-Canadian, New York. Loaned by the estate of the artist and her gallery.

 

 

 

 

Displaced Burial / Burial at Gorée,1993, acrylic on canvas.

Denyse Thomasos, 1963 -2012, Trinidadian-Canadian, New York. Loaned by the estate of Denyse Thomasos and her gallery.

 

 

 

 

 

Introduction to Nameless Love, 2019

Jonathan Berger, American born 1980; with associates

 

Jonathan Berger mounted the words of six people onto scaffolding ranged around charcoal floor tiles.  The narrative of 3 of his interlocutors  were shown here, illuminated by perpendicular fluorescent lights.

 

Jonathan Berger spoke to these people over a period of years about a love relationship which had or has had large meaning for them. He did this following the death of a friend of his of 5 years’ standing.

 

What each interlocutor said was reduced to a short narrative by artist, narrator and an editor.

 

A group of artisans hammered out these words in tin and mounted them on scaffolding. The area is united by charcoal floor bricks.

The love spoken of here is neither romantic nor sexual love.

It is not agape: it does not have a theological or divine cast.  Nor does it involve more than two people.

 

It is the love between adults.  Sometimes between people and their animals. You would call this the love between friends; but the word ‘friend’ is often abused to mean much slighter relationships.

 

Love of this kind is nameless and does not get any billing in our narcissistic, social-media-obsessed, thrill-seeking and hypersexualized civilization.

 

This love sustains the sanity and enriches, sometimes transforms, and sometimes guides the lives of those who experience it.  It is all good.

 

 

 

Paintings of Jane Dickson, American born 1952

 

 

Motel 5, 2019, acrylic on felt. 

Jane Dickson, American born 1952. Loaned by the artist and her gallery.

 

 

 

99 cent dreams, materials not listed.

Jane Dickson, American born 1952. Loaned by the artist and her gallery.

 

 

 

 

Save Time, 2020, oil stick on linen.

Jane Dickson, American born 1952. Loaned by the artist and her gallery.

 

The advertisements now and in the past which have cushioned and also fashioned the lives of many people.

 

 

 

 

Kitchen, 2019, PET plastic fabricated by Tomasz Jan Groza and Ang Bida

Emily Barker, American born 1992. Loaned by the artist.

 

The artist is disabled and in a wheelchair.  Here, the countertops are 5’9″ high.  This is the average height of an American man.

The artist wants to show how  dysfunctional would be a kitchen like this for most of us; as all kitchen designs are for the disabled.

 

Death by 7,865 Paper Cuts is the name the artist gave to the pile of paper on the right front side of this photo. 

This is the photocopied medical bills and documents from 3 years of the artist’s life living with spinal-chord injury and chronic illness.

 

 

 

 

 

A work from a selection in an untitled series, 2021 in which the artist has documented his research in countries in which he has worked. 

Ralph Lemon, American born 1952.

 

 

 

 

 

 

….blindfolded, 2022,-;installation with oil stick on paper pad

Awilda Sterling-Duprey. American born 1947

 

These are ‘dance-drawings’: the artist blindfolds herself and, dancing, makes these marks on paper.  These were made in the museum for this exhibition.

She says about this process:

“In the moment when I am making these images, I don’t have a sense of what I am doing, but I am enjoying grasping the concept.

“Abstraction gives me the openness and that freedom; from there I can go further, be riskier in how I work…”

 

 

 

 

 

The Guiding Light, 2021, oil stick and graphite pencil on canvas with artist’s frame. 

Harold Ancart, born 1980 Brussels, Belgium, lives in New York.  Loaned by the artist.

 

 

 

 

From left: 

Stars and Stripes, 2021 Big Shot, 2021;  Exceptional Blacks, 2021; all oil and wax on canvas.

James Little, American born 1952.  Loaned by the artist and his gallery.

 

 

 

 

Private storms, 2021,oil on linen.

  James Little, American born 1952.  Loaned by the artist and his gallery.

 

The artist, who is African American, has been making art since the 1970’s.  This is what he said about why he is an abstract artist:

Abstraction provided me with self-determination and free will. It was liberating. I don’t find freedom in any other form.

“People like to have an answer before they have the experience. Abstraction doesn’t offer you that. It’s up to you. You have to determine the outcome for yourself.  That’s why I do it.”

 

 

 

 

 

Wopila/Lineage, acrylic, glass bugle beads, synthetic sinew on aluminum panel, 2021.

Dyani White Hawk, Sicangu Lakota born 1976 in Madison, WI and lives now in Shakopee, MN, USA 

 

The lineage of this work is the Lakota practice  of creating abstract patterns using beading, painting and quill work (embroidery using porcupine quills). 

The artist expressed thanks in the title of this work to her ancestral and living communities.

 

 

 

 

 

2.00 am, 2021, watercolour on paper.

Danielle Dean, American born 1982 

 

This is one of a series of works the artist made after studying an archive of Ford Motor Company advertisements. 

She learned about Fordlandia, a town Ford created in the 1920s in the Brazilian Amazon rainforest in order to extract rubber.  The experiment was an environmental and cultural disaster.

The artist reinterprets  and updates the advertisements.

 

 

 

 

 

ishkode, clay and bullet casings, 2021. 

Rebecca Belmore, born Anishinaabe, Canada

The title means ‘fire’ in the language of the artist, Anishinaabemowin.

 

 

 

 

 

Project Row Houses: If Artists Are Creative, why Can’t They Create Solutions, acrylic and paper collage on canvas, 2021

Rick Lowe, American born 1961.  Loaned by the artist and his gallery.

 

This was the question a teenager asked the artist who went forward to co-found ‘Project Row Houses’ in 1993. 

 

The project has succeeded in transforming condemned houses in Houston’s Third Ward into artist projects, social services and educational programs.

 

 

 

 

 

Untitled (Days); 2021-22; silkscreen ink on canvas.

Adam Pendleton, American born 1984.  Loaned by the artist and his gallery

 

This seems to represent a visual image of the wake of a life – like the wake of a boat – which the artist is trying to understand.

 

 

Adam Pendleton also makes biographical videos.

A video he has made of the public theologian and social rights activist, Ruby Sales, American born 1948, is included in this Biennial.

 

 

A still from Ruby Nell Sales, 61 minutes;

Adam Pendleton director, 2022

 

Adam Pendleton tries to discover the sources of the love of this woman who loves so much and articulates so clearly what she does and does not love.

 

Ruby Sales‘ life has been marked by the self-sacrifice of a young white man, Jonathan Daniels, a colleague working with her in the Civil Rights movement in Alabama in 1965.

He was shot dead by a part-time sheriff  who was a segregationist.  Jonathan Daniels had moved his body to protect her. 

She lost the ability to speak for months.

 

After that her voice as a public theologian has grown and grown.

 

A wonderful voice of hope but not shunning the evils and pitfalls and complexity of our time.

  

 

 

 

 

Vibratory Cartography: Nepantia, 2022; acrylic, ink, gouache, canvas, burlap, fringe, polyester, and wood.

  Lisa Alvarado, American born 1982. Loaned by the artist.

 

These – stylistically Mexican-American  – are stage sets for musical performances exploring how sound and colour affect the body.

‘Nepantla’ means ‘in between’ in Nahuatl.  The state in which immigrants live.

 

 

 

 

 

Two representations of otherworldly landscapes which the artist calls Vitr..ous; oil on aluminum panels.

WangShui, American born 1986. Loaned by the artist. 

 

Museum guidance is this:

The artist’s focus is ‘post-human perception’, imagined as ‘sensory integration among animals, humans, environment and machines’. 

The light on these two works is altered by a creation of the artist on the ceiling above.  That work is a collage of ‘self conscious’ generative adversarial networks which use sensors to react to air quality and the light it itself emits.

 

 

 

 

 

Untitled (Snag), 2022, acrylic and vinyl on canvas.

Cy Gavin, American born 1985.  Loaned by the artist and his gallery.

 

 

 

 

 

Ecstatic Draught of Fishes, 2022; oil, pigment, palladium leaf and paper on canvas.

Ellen Gallagher, American born 1965.  Loaned by the artist and her gallery.

 

Museum guidance on the work of this artist is this:

‘The surface of her paintings interwoven with penmanship paper that has become a kind of signature material, and other materials, connotes unsteady movements, unreliability, impossible alignments, the overlooked, and abstraction as a means of escape and possibility...’

 

 

 

Mountains Walking, 2022, oil on linen and hand-crafted wood easel. 

Leidy Churchman, American born 1979.  Loaned by the artist and her gallery.

 

The artist says of this: 

“Like Claude Monet’s waterlilies, Mountains and Waters Sutra (a classic 13th century zen text by Ei Dogen) is porous. It enters the waterlilies….Waterlilies are like graffiti, or emotions.  They could just go on and on and in Dogen’s world, everything is mutual and enlightened.”

The museum adds that the carved feet at the base of the painting invokes the claws of a Buddhist protector deity.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The will to make things happen, 2021, ceramic, glaze and bronze on ceramic tiled plinth.

Woody de Othello, American born 1991.  Loaned by the artist.

 

A pandemic reverie on the things which surrounded the artist in his locked-down home during the pandemic.

 

 

 

 

 

I/Fell/Off, 2022; oil, acrylic and pencil on canvas.

Matt Connors, American born 1973.  Loaned by the artist and his gallery.

 

 

 

 

Occult Glossary, 2022, oil, acrylic and pencil on canvas. 

Matt Connors, American born 1973.  Loaned by the artist and his gallery.

 

 

 

 

How I made certain of my paintings, 2021, mixed media on canvas.

Matt Connors, American born 1973.  Loaned by the artist and his gallery.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hangings with traditional tent decorative markings; canvas or linen; cochineal, orange pekoe tea,charcoal, sumac, cotton thread, blueberry dye and felt tip marker; 2022.

Duane Linklater, Omaskeko Ininiwak, born 1976 in Treaty 9 Territory, Northern Ontario, Canada and lives now in North Bay, Canada

 

 

 

 

 

A selection of panels from An island is all surrounded by water in the morning foreboding Quickly solved by dripping A shower, you know A slow crawl to the park Wait first meet A coffee A hill A roundabout A breeze on the lake………

Treated, stained  leather, 2022.

the title goes on for several lines yet.

Rindon Johnson, born 1990 in unceded Ohlone territory (San Francisco, California). Loaned by the artist and his gallery.

 

 

 

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