The Whitney Biennial: Three New Curators Bring New Life

Ana B. Remos


The long awaited biennial of the Whitney Museum of American Art, to be held from March 7 to May 25, 2014, comes with new life and ideas from the hands of three curators from outside the institution: Stuart Comer, curator of Media and Performance Art at New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) and the Tate Modern film library in London; Anthony Elms, curator at Philadelphia’s Institute of Contemporary Art, and Michelle Grabne, artist and professor at the Department of Drawing and Painting in the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Each of them will supervise a section of the Biennial, and will bring their own methodology and more openness to this show featuring 103 of the best creative talents in America.

Whitney Biennial 2014
Curators Anthony Elms, Stuart Comer, and Michelle

Three new voices will be in charge of the last Biennial held at the Madison Avenue location since the institution will move, in the spring of 2015, to a new building. In addition, Elisabeth Sussman and Jay Sanders, associated with the museum and responsible for the success of the 2012 Biennial, will act as advisors on the project. Since Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney began these annual exhibitions and biennials in 1932, 77 editions have taken place, and every one of them has been a challenge to quality and adaptation.

“The 2014 Biennial brings together the findings of three curators with very distinct points of view. There is little overlap in the artists they have selected and yet there is common ground. This can be seen in their choice of artists working in interdisciplinary ways, artists working collectively, and artists from a variety of generations. Together, the 103 participants offer one of the broadest and most diverse takes on art in the United States that the Whitney has offered in many years”, explains Donna De Salvo, curator and program director of the New York museum.

In selecting works for the Biennial, Comer has considered “the complexity of contemporary art practice, including many types of cultural producers: editorial labs, artists, curators, activists, musicians, poets, dancers, filmmakers, painters, sculptors and photographers. These artists often work at the intersection of political movements and personal statements, addressing the global changes in the most vibrant and varied ways.” According Elm, a museum like the Whitney “must include a multiplicity of voices and a sense of poetry. It should exhibit artworks from all creative disciplines and question the relationship between the past, present and the stories that have not yet been written.” Meanwhile, Grabner has sought to convene influential figures in their field, both within the geographical and commercial centers of art and outside them.

Whitney Biennial 2014
Whitney Museum of American Art.

Following the announcement of the list of featured artists, experts have suggested that if the previous biennial was characterized by its hybrid nature, the inclusion of these three curators further multiplies that quality. It shows, for example, a strong inclination to literature: present are the names of the famous novelist David Foster Wallace and a large number of artists also known for literary works, such as Alex Jovanovich, Pedro Vélez, Gary Indiana and David Robbins. There are also works by many artists who identify themselves as poets or artists-poets, such as Etel Adnan, Susan Howe and Travis Jeppesen. And although experts point out that not many renowned traditional artists are included, truth is they also have a place in the Biennial, as is the case of established painters, photographers and sculptors Sherrie Levine, Laura Owens, Sterling Ruby, Charline von Heyl and David Hammons, among others.

This year´s exhibition also pays attention to social networks, aware of the importance they have acquired in our society, with the display of works by artists that created personal interactions before the onset of Facebook. Experimental film, video, dance, sound and music are also included in this great show. Examples include accordionist Pauline Oliveros, the minimalist composer Charlemagne Palestine, young dancers Miguel Gutiérrez and Taisha Paggett, filmmakers Andrew Bujalski and Michel Auder, and more experimental directors like Morgan Fisher and Victoria Fu.

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