The Texas Connections in the 2019 Whitney Biennial

by Brandon Zech March 1, 2019
Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City

The Whitney Museum of American Art

The Whitney Museum of American Art announced this week the artists who are selected for the 2019 Whitney Biennial, which is scheduled to run from May 17 to September 22. This year’s show is co-organized by Jane Panetta, the museum’s associate curator, and Rujeko Hockley, the institution’s assistant curator.

Regarding the 2019 exhibition’s 75 artists, and the differing concepts they address in their works, Ms. Hockley noted the curatorial direction behind the exhibition:

“Although intentionally broad in scope, the exhibition explores key themes, including the mining of history in order to reimagine the present or future, a profound and sustained consideration of questions of equity along financial, racial, and sexual lines, a concern with climate change, and explorations of the vulnerability of the body. Artists in the exhibition are engaged with notions of what community means and can provide while using art to confront and cope with our current world.”

Like most iterations of the Biennial, which is now in its 79th edition, the 2019 show features a diverse roster, although this year includes mostly artists of color and skews towards artists under 40 years old. As always, some participating artists are showing for the first time in the Biennial, and some are Biennial veterans. In fact five artists — Nicole Eisenman,  Sam Green, James Luna, Carissa Rodriguez, and Barbara Hammer — have participated before.

The 2019 Biennial features some artists who have connections with Texas. Tomashi Jackson was born in Houston and went to school elsewhere, but two artists — Darius Clark Monroe and Troy Michie — were born and educated in their hometowns — Houston and El Paso, respectively. The fourth artist with a strong Texas connection is Autumn Knight, who for years was an active part of Houston’s art scene. Before her recent move to New York, Ms. Knight was involved in many events and exhibitions across Texas, and also served as a 2013 resident at the Galveston Artist Residency.

Members of Decolonize This Place and its supporters rallied in the lobby of the Whitney Museu on December 9. Photo courtesy Decolonize This Place.

Even before the 2019 Biennial’s artist list was made public, Chicago-based artist Michael Rakowitz pulled out of the show, citing his objection to the Whitney’s vice chairman, Warren Kanders. Mr. Kanders owns Safariland, the company that manufactured the tear gas used by United States Customs and Border Protection officers on migrant mothers and children at the San Diego-Tijuana border in 2018. The museum has already experienced protests over Mr. Kanders’ involvement in the institution, and the New York Times reports that 95 Whitney staffers signed a letter asking the museum’s board “consider asking” Mr. Kanders to resign.

For more on the Biennial, and to read more from Mr. Rakowitz about his decision to not participate in it, go here.


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Kay Trieste Day March 7, 2019 - 12:08

If “most iterations” of the Biennial “feature” a “diverse roster,” were the Guerrilla Girls full of shit when their work referred to the museum as “The Whitey?” I’m assuming you meant to say “eclectic roster?”

Christopher Scott March 7, 2019 - 22:51

So thrilled to see Autumn Knight’s name on the roster. Her work certainly has the import of “now” given the cultural climate as it stands today. But what’s so great about her work, for me, is not as much it’s political and social implications as it is the connection with an audience she fosters so measuredly, as in her recent performance at the CAMH’s exhibition “Walls Turned Sideways.” She undulates through a space, her energy waxing and waning until she can elicit a climax of emotion. She builds a rapport both with and between her participants née viewers. And she maintains that measure all the while razor blades, physical and otherwise, inflict a stinging pain of which participants are blissfully unaware. This quiet suffering is the sacrifice she makes for her audience; in reaching out to them she is extending a hand when, under different circumstances, the gesture might not be so quickly reciprocated. A selfless act in a world so replete with selfishness.


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