The 78th installment of the 2017 Whitney Biennial opened to the public at the Whitney Museum in New York on Friday. The 63 artists, with a number of CalArtians counted among them, explore themes of self and the individual’s place in a turbulent society.
The Biennial, which is the longest-running survey of contemporary art in the United States, includes painting, sculpture, drawing, installation, film and video, photography, activism, performance, music and video game design by both established and emerging artists.
Here’s a glimpse into some of the works on view by Chouinard and CalArts alumni:
Larry Bell (Chouinard 59): Pacific Red II is an installation on the fifth-floor terrace that consists of six laminated glass cubes that each enclose another glass box. The work plays with, and responds to, the surrounding area.
Beatriz Cortez (Art MFA 15): Cortez was one of several artists invited by Biennial artist Rafa Esparza to showcase their works. Writes the New York Times: “Mr. Esparza has invited five artists not officially in the Biennial to exhibit their work here, most notably Beatriz Cortez, whose 5-foot-high “Cairn,” assembled from large chunks of volcanic rock, is a fragile balancing act that speaks volumes about the precariousness of life today.”
Postcommodity, still from ‘A Very Long Line,’ 2016. Four-channel digital video, color, sound; looped. Courtesy the artists.
– Raven Chacon (Music MFA): Chacon is one of the artists in the Postcommodity collective whose installation A Very Long Line focuses on the politically charged border wall between Mexico and the U.S.
– Lyle Ashton Harris (Art MFA 90): Once (Now) Again is part of Harris’ larger ongoing project, the Ektachrome Archive, which features slide images shot between 1986-98.
– Tuan Andrew Nguyen (Art MFA Art 04): The New York Times notes that Nguyen’s video, The Island, “an unlikely combination of fact and fantasy, [which] revisits the tiny Malaysian island of Pulau Bidong, which sheltered tens of thousands of Vietnamese refugees who fled their country in the 1970s and ’80s.”
– Henry Taylor (Art BFA 95): His painting, The Times They Ain’t A Changing, Fast Enough! depicts the fatal shooting of school cafeteria worker Philando Castile by a Minnesota police officer.
– Kaari Upson (Art MFA 07): The artist transforms the “soft, flaccid forms” of damaged couches into powerfully solid sculptures.
– Former faculty member John Divola and Leigh Ledare are also included in the exhibition.
In her New York Times review of the show, Why the Whitney’s Humanist, Pro-Diversity Biennial Is a Revelation, art critic Roberta Smith writes:
The show spotlights 63 artists and collectives working at the intersection of the formal and the social, and in this it announces a new chapter of so-called political art — though one already brewing in small museums, galleries and studios. Many of these artists confront such American realities as income inequality, homelessness, misogyny, immigration, violence, hatred and biases of race, religion and class. But they are equally committed to the artistic exploration of media and materials, and to the creation of bold and strange things to see and think about.
Important messages are conveyed through perception.
At a moment when a new president threatens to wipe out the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities, this exhibition makes an exciting, powerful case for art. As seen here, art illuminates the diversity on which this country’s greatness stands and — through its mysterious alchemy of beauty and reality, tragedy and joy — inspires us to think, know our better selves and fight back.
For a closer look at all the works and artists on view through June 11, visit the Whitney Biennial website.