The Whitney Biennial 2012: An American Embarrassment
According to the latest Whitney Biennial, the American art in the last two years —from painting to sculpture and performance— is DEAD. Not only dead, but also BRAIN DEAD. The only monumental splash in this year’s show is the lack of taste and direction of its curators, Elisabeth Sussman, Sondra Gilman and Jay Sanders, who would be better off starting a more rewarding career in knitting where taste, brains and guts are not an absolute requirement.
The big media struggled to put some polite epithets on this year’s garbage & student like minor collection: Time Out calls it “Tepid,” New York Magazine, a “Quiet, Incomplete Manifesto,” The Times calls it “Deceptively Unassuming,” Bloomberg’s Lance Esplund has the common sense to tell it like it is and find the show
“Certainly not great or even very good overall” and “relatively small, scattered and incoherent–almost scrappy.” Only The New Yorker found it ‘Enchanting’ posting a review that read like a press release, which shows how gutless this formerly giant has become. Roberta Smith from the New York Times found Werner Herzog’s Hearsay of the Soul, “a ravishing five-screen digital projection, to his first-ever art show” that will make us cry. Apart from its illustrious signature and the fact that it was one of the few things that made sense there, I found it utterly banal.
More to the point are the readers’ comments on the NY Times review page. Terry Sanders in New York writes: “The show is insulting to anyone with minimal sensibilities and education. What it’s a show of how ‘cultural institutions’ are as detached from everyday reality as the finance industry of which they are a part. The avatars of ‘the 1%’ lack any taste as do their patrons.”
One of the NY Times readers picks, “David in New York” wonders: “What ever happened to being amazed by the forward surge created by true originality?” And someone else rants beautifully that “Art is not dead, it’s just in hiding. This Whitney-approved stuff is Madoff-style emptiness. It’s capitalism run amok. “
Art has been hijacked by the establishment and replaced with mediocre place holders for concepts, the process is declared more important than the finished artwork, and people’s reaction are a solid manifesto against this trend, or should we call it a never bursting bubble? If almost nobody likes it, then who is this pseudo art for? Too bad America’s artists didn’t organize themselves in a parallel ‘salon’ — like the French impressionists did over a hundred years ago — to present us with a better alternative. (Perhaps the Gagosian Gallery across the street from the Whitney Museum should offer them a forum? I’ve often seen much better contemporary art there then at the Whitney’s Biennial). The bourgeois mediocrity has been mostly replaced by the freak & fringe mediocrity, but the process of glorifying mediocrity and neglecting true skill, mastery and originality by a select few is the same.
The artist friend who invited me to see the show told me that “she’s been in New York since 1987 and each year the biennial has been worse.” I’ve been in New York since 1998 and I can say the same. Someone is obviously asleep at the wheel at the Whitney’s leadership because the Whitney Biennial has been turned into the most embarrassing one in the world. If I were one of its corporate sponsors, I’d want my money back.
Fortunately I didn’t pay for the ticket, and I still felt it was a big waste of my time. Upon exiting, I had to fight the urge to tell incoming hopeful visitors to spin on their heels and run away.