Original Spanish, plus English translation, of article in Spain’s equivalent to the New York Times. The review contains a fuller-than-usual discussion of the significance of O’Grady’s installation. ****[translated from Spanish] A More Female and More Discreet Whitney Biennial. . . Museum reduces number of artists by half this year.
The age of art-as-spectacle is over. With the economy gripping the heels of institutions, galleries and creative talents, it seems reasonable that the Whitney Museum of New York would this year put on a Biennial with half the artists of recent years (55) and, above all, with a profile both discreet and unpretentious. The 75th edition of the Whitney Biennial (through May 30), titled succinctly 2010, does nonetheless provide a headline for those in need of one: it is the first in history with a female majority. And this becomes even more patently obvious on the museum’s top floor, where the retrospective Collecting Biennials has been installed. The best of each decade is set out there, from Rauschenberg to Andy Warhol and Jasper Johns, but the female names are almost anecdotal --- Eva Hesse, Cindy Sherman and few others.
However, on the three floors occupied by the Biennial proper, there are a great many works made by women and, surprisingly, these are neither feminist art nor odes to extreme youth – as occurred throughout the last decade. Rather, the great majority of the artists are over 40, including one approaching 76, Lorraine O’Grady, relatively ignored up to now, who has finally found recognition. Her work, The First and the Last of the Modernists, is a disturbing display of photographs of the singer Michael Jackson and the poet Baudelaire at different stages of their existence, but organized by age and paired, so that one can see the evolution and transformation of both icons, whose lives had a certain parallelism, however incredible this might seem. It is surprising to find two photographic series, which in a different context would be called photo-journalism but that the curators have decided to include in the Biennial, thus blurring a bit further the limits of what can be defined as art. The prize-winning Stephanie Sinclair occupies three walls with horrifying photographs of Afghanian women who have self-immolated in protest against abusive treatment by their husbands. The images, showing the absolute vulnerability of the victims as they appear semi-nude, burnt, bloody, in sordid hospital waiting rooms, are a fist-punch to the conscience of the visitor. In another room, Nina Berman’s disquieting photographs document the life of marine Ty Ziegel, completely disfigured during the Iraq war. The images show him after his return home with even his wedding to his high-school sweetheart, though everything in the images preannounces that the marriage will not end well.
It’s strange to find several rooms dedicated solely to painting, a genre that almost seemed exiled from previous Biennials. There is an immense space devoted to watercolors by Charles Ray, and another room in which tiny oils by Maureen Gallace are hung beside Julia Fish’s abstract works. There are also numerous video installations. Some are playful, like Marianne Vitale’s Welcome to the Future of Neutralism, which uses verbal and aesthetic references taken from the early avant-guards so as to ironize the idea of power. Also in an ironic vein is Kate Gilmore’s video Standing Here, whose nature – a woman with high-heels trying to break out of a cubicle by kicking it – provokes an incredulous smile.
© 2009 Lorraine O'Grady | All rights reserved.