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Read All About It! Art Fart Goes to the Whitney Biennial

Updated: May 3

It’s that time again: the Whitney Biennial has rolled into town, people, buckle up.

Well, let's dive in. They’re calling it Even Better Than the Real Thing, which is a bit of a riddle for the viewer as they wander this earthy exhibition. ‘Earthy’ is an apt adjective — this Biennial’s theme is more or less a response to the current Crisis of Reality ignited, fueled, & manipulated by our overly-digital world where A.I. & deepfakes are tampering with our perception of what is real & what isn’t. Heady stuff, I tell ya. The title implies something beyond the real, a utopia perhaps, but the punchline seems to be that the real is in fact better than the implied artificial utopia (like the one promised by digital non-reality), given the corporeal quality of the pieces here.

We tend to favor colorful displays here at Humphrey Magazine, but the Whitney seems to have bypassed color & notions of spectacle in favor of the grays & browns of an arty cerebral presentation (frankly, the advertising was the most colorful part of the show — see above) which makes sense since a lot of what seems to have guided the curation were ideas surrounding the body & its inherent materiality — ashes to ashes, dust to dust, that sort of thing. Jes Fan’s 3-D printed CAT scans of his own body were especially weird & poignant (very oceanic, like oozy, distorted oyster shells), as well as Lotus L. King’s huge, hanging photographic films, which undergo constant exposure & therefore constant change, the implication being that our own bodies moving through the exhibition, our breath, our movement, effect the strips of film, much like our own skin is permeable to the physical environment that surrounds us. Then there’s Carolyn Lazard’s Toilette, which was essentially just mirrored medicine cabinets full of Vaseline arranged in a little labyrinth on the floor, or like a phalanx of guards huddled together, protecting themselves from the threats of the onslaught of pharmacology, advertising, & the looming beast of late-stage capitalism. It does feel like that sometimes, doesn’t it? Even Vaseline is derived from oil, after all. 

It’s sometimes hard to wrap your head around this system we exist within, highlighted with such blunt force by Lazard — even if you exist in the proverbial bubble of a tight phalanx of guards (like the efforts required to be well — avoid everything! reject everything! always on your guard!), you can never protect yourself from the overriding industrial nature of our modern world. A lot of art nowadays, & especially in this exhibition, is a kind of brazen, halting death dance projected at the ill-fated forward thrust of Western civilization. Thus the room full of garbage on the first floor by Ser Serpas; thus the large-scale sculpture of a sinking White House with an upside-down American flag, titled Ruins of Empire II or The Earth Swallow’s the Master’s House’ by Kylan Williams on the 6th-floor terrace (a little on the nose); & thus the various grievances centered around identity that orient much of this exhibition & much of the cultural conversation these days — the point being that the raging onward machine of “progress” initiated by European Enlightenment ideas centered around expansionism as well as, perhaps especially, the American obsession with wealth & materialism at the cost of the very Earth we live on, is a broken & stupid system to live in. Oy!

But back to materiality. You know, I expected more A.I., based on that grand title, & I’ll admit that at first I felt a bit misled. Why mention A.I. in an exhibition that seems to be rejecting it altogether? The point is a return to the material, it would seem. Suzanne Jackson’s hanging paintings without canvas (acrylic paint combined with a gel medium to make a gooey, floating paint-as-paint-&-only-paint) drove the point home, and felt like a kind of major triumph for pure art (I’d forgotten about modern art’s endless pursuit of a reduction of things to their purest form, it was nice to be reminded). Eddie Rodolfo Aparicio’s giant sculpture, Paloma Blanca Deja Volar / White Dove Let Us Fly made of amber, volcanic stone, pigeon wings, & so on, is continuously changing shape due to the unstable nature of the amber that binds it together. This feels linked to the amount of video on display — always rolling, always changing, the viewer always stumbling in on a different moment. Set aside a full day for this exhibition, folks, there’s a lot of video (perhaps too much? it would be nice if they served you a cup of coffee upon entering, I got a little sleepy). My favorite by far, perhaps of the entire exhibition, was Diane Severin Nguyen’s In Her Time, a phantasmagoric Chinese video in a David Lynch-style red room outfitted with a bed for watching (I wouldn’t be surprised if people actually fall asleep!). And right outside of this, another one of the stronger pieces, Carmen Winant’s wall of photographs that capture ordinary daily tasks of healthcare workers required to provide abortions, that most bodily of quandaries. 

If I had to rename the exhibition, I’d call it Body Language. Simple, I know, but the other thing that came across was the poignant use of language in the artists’ statements and the museum wall texts. So many bon mots! Nguyen’s video piece is like one long, incredibly well-crafted poem, with the added advantage of an odd sense of visual joy. The cognitive dissonance required to watch a subtitled film (Nguyen’s piece is in Chinese with English subtitles) is actually a good binding metaphor for taking in art like that on display at the Biennial: it asks you to embrace dissonance, often. One such moment that was especially fun was Nikita Gale’s 

TEMPO RUBATO (STOLEN TIME), a player piano modified so only the mechanisms of the piano are audible, not the music itself (which involved some legal gymnastics for the artist to use, even though the piece is inaudible — we do love a legal quagmire in art, don’t we?). I’m a sucker for things that are more assonant than dissonant, myself, & my favorite pieces in the exhibition were paintings executed with an almost machine-like crispness, those colorful representations of Aztec gods by Eamon Ore-Giron, & Takako Yamaguchi’s transcendently simple representations of weather patterns. 

For a hungry art monster like myself, the flavor was fragrantly bitter — something like the taste of soil laced with a little poison from all the idiotic ‘innovations’ of modern farming. But the essential flavor — Earth — was there, and that’s what counts. It’s not gone yet, folks! 

—The Art Fart

'Whitney Biennial 2024: Even Better Than the Real Thing' is on view March 20th - August 11th, 2024. Images courtesy of The Whitney Museum of American Art.

Gallery Image captions:

  • Carolyn Lazard Toilette, 2024 Medicine cabinets and vaseline. Collection of the artist.

  • Jes Fan, Cross Section (Right Leg Muscle II), 2023. PLA filaments, fiberglass, resin, pigment, glass, 27 x 19 x 12 in. (68.58 x 48.26 x 30.48 cm). Collection of the artist. Commissioned by M+ Museum, Hong Kong. Courtesy the artist; Empty Gallery, Hong Kong; and Andrew Kreps Gallery, New York. Photograph by Olympia Shannon

  • Jes Fan, Contrapposto, 2023. 3D print of the artist’s thigh muscle, resin, pigment, glass, metal, 98 × 35 × 27 in. (248.9 × 88.9 × 68.6 cm). © Jes Fan. Courtesy the artist; M+ Museumr, Hong Kong; Empty Gallery, Hong Kong; and Andrew Kreps Gallery, New York. Photograph by Olympia Shannon.

  • Maja Ruznic, The Past Awaiting the Future/Arrival of Drummers, 2023 Oil on linen 99 1/2 x 151 1/2 x 2 1/2 in. (252.73 x 384.81 x 6.35 cm) Collection of the artist; courtesy Karma.

  • Suzanne Jackson, Rag-to-Wobble, 2020 Acrylic, acrylic gel medium, acrylic detritus, cotton paint cloth, vintage dress hangers, and D-rings 91 1/2 x 54 1/2 in. (232.4 x 138.4 cm), variable; with 14 in. variable bulge Collection of the artist; courtesy Ortuzar Projects, New York.

  • Eamon Ore-Giron Talking Shit with Viracocha's Rainbow (Iteration I), 2023 Mineral paint and vinyl paint on canvas 72 x 72 in. (182.9 x 182.9 cm) Collection of Dr. and Mrs. Jeremy Finkelstein; courtesy James Cohan, New York.

  • Eamon Ore-Giron Talking Shit with Amaru (Wari), 2023 Mineral paint and vinyl paint on canvas 84 x 60 in. (213.4 x 152.4 cm) Private collection; courtesy James Cohan, New York.

  • B. Ingrid Olson Completed Movement (between abut and rub between two notes the number between one and two divided into qualities and kinds), 2016-22 Inkjet print and UV printed matboard in powder-coated aluminum frame 38 x 18 x 1.25 in. (96.5 x 45.72 x 3.2 cm) Collection of Dan Byers.

  • Nikita Gale TEMPO RUBATO (STOLEN TIME), 2023–24 Modified player piano, audio, and LED lighting system Collection of the artist; courtesy Commonwealth and Council, Los Angeles and Mexico City; Petzel, New York; Emalin, London; and 56 Henry, New York Fabrication: Lindeblad Pianos Sound design: Daniel Neumann Lighting design: Josephine Wang.

  • Shuang Li, still from ÆTHER (Poor Objects), 2021. Video, color, sound; 18:28 min. © Shuang Li. Courtesy Peres Projects.

  • Tourmaline, still from Pollinator, 2022. Video, black and white, sound; 5:08 min. © Tourmaline. Courtesy the artist and Chapter, New York.

  • Holly Herndon & Mat Dryhurst xhairymutantx, 2024 Ai Model Courtesy the artists.

  • Takako Yamaguchi Issue, 2023 Oil and metal leaf on canvas 42 x 50 in. (106.7 x 127 cm) Collection of the artist; courtesy Ortuzar Projects, New York, and, Los Angeles.

  • Kiyan Williams Ruins of Empire II or The Earth Swallows the Master’s House, 2024 Earth, steel, and binder Dimensions TBC Collection of the artist

  • Installation view of Whitney Biennial 2024: Even Better than the Real Thing (Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, March 20–August 11, 2024). Diane Severin Nguyen, In Her Time (Iris’s Version), 2023–24. Photograph by Audrey Wang

  • Diane Severin Nguyen, still from In Her Time (Iris’s Version), 2022–23. HD video, color, sound; 62:37 min. © Diane Severin Nguyen

  • Installation view of Whitney Biennial 2024: Even Better than the Real Thing (Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, March 20–August 11, 2024). Eddie Rodolfo Aparicio, Paloma Blanca Deja Volar/White Dove Let Us Fly, 2024 (detail). Photograph by Nora Gomez-Strauss.


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