Flavorpill Network
Flavorpill + Earplug Artkrush Boldtype Activate

Flavorpill: Beta

New York City | Los Angeles | San Francisco | London | Chicago | Miami


International Art Online

send feedback

About Us

Artkrush is a bimonthly email magazine covering the key figures, exhibitions, and trends in international art and design.

Sign up for Artkrush.

More about us


Traverse the Web

Daily updated sites we dig

  • Frieze
  • Art Fag City
  • Artnet
  • Wooster Collective
  • Fette's Flog
  • Archinect
  • Core77
  • Designboom
  • Design Observer
  • We Make Money Not Art
  • Rhizome.org
  • Alec Soth Blog
  • More »
Cultural Partner


March 19, 2008

Henriette Huldisch and Shamim M. Momin

Every two years, New York's Whitney Museum of American Art surveys contemporary American art with a lively, sprawling, and often-controversial exhibition. This year's Whitney Biennial affords 81 artists individual spaces to display new work or create site-specific installations at the museum; it also provides installations and programming at the nearby Park Avenue Armory. Artkrush editor Paul Laster recently chatted with Biennial curators Henriette Huldisch, assistant curator at the Whitney, and Shamim M. Momin, associate curator at the Whitney and former branch director and curator of the Whitney Museum at Altria, about the exhibition and the current modes of American art.

AK:  Is there a theme to the Whitney Biennial 2008?

HH:  No, although the biennial is not and has never been a grab bag, either. The goal is to strike a balance between inclusively representing art made in the United States over the last two years and organizing a large group show with some formal and thematic coherence. So we didn't set out with a theme in mind that we then tried to illustrate, but rather looked at as much work as we could and began to isolate strands of ideas and congruent kinds of work that emerged over the course of our research.

AK:  How many cities and artists did you visit to assemble the exhibition?

SMM:  I don't think we have an exact count of the artists, but we must have easily done hundreds of studio and gallery visits in the eight months of research time. Also, while we began working exclusively on the biennial in January 2007, it's not as if we began from a blank slate; both of us, as contemporary curators, are constantly looking at shows, visiting artists, and thinking about what we find significant in the contemporary scene. As for where we went, we traveled to many different cities in the States, as well as to other places that were important to the communities of artists we were talking to, including Mexico City, Vancouver, and Berlin. And of course, we did the European rounds last summer, both to see artists, and for the significant international shows, to examine different curatorial approaches against our own.

AK:  Who are the oldest and youngest artists in the show, and how does their work relate or differ?

HH:  The oldest artist is John Baldessari (b. 1931), who has been a tremendously influential artist and teacher in Los Angeles for decades. While his influence isn't necessarily felt in any direct way, Baldessari's brand of witty West Coast conceptualism reverberates through the show, and his new works from Noses & Ears, Etc. and Arms & Legs (Specif. Elbows & Knees), Etc., two series blending photography, painting, and sculpture, are also emblematic of many of the material dialogues in the exhibition.

The youngest artist is Rashawn Griffin (b. 1980), who makes floor works and hanging works or "banners" using different fabrics, such as denim or cotton prints, as well as collages and drawings. Playing off the architecture of the exhibition space, his works combine the handmade, crafty vernacular of his materials with modular, geometric forms while invoking personal, social, or cultural narratives. The combination of formal interest and social content, often articulated through particular material choices, is also at the center of many of the works in this year's biennial.

AK:  In previous Whitney Biennials, artists showed existing work made in the prior two years; in this exhibition, the majority of the work on view is new and site-specific. Why were the boundaries of the show pushed in this way, and how do you think it impacts the overall exhibition?

SMM:  The fact that new work comprises a very high percentage of the show doesn't demonstrate a desire for newness in and of itself, but rather reflects the way that these artists are working today. That is to say, for the most part, they exhibit a more project-based practice — one that works in specific response to the space, beginning with a set of ideas and realized in the exhibition instead of selecting isolated works from disparate studios. We felt it critical to represent that type of practice, though, of course, it does make the installation planning that much more challenging; as each project and individual conversation with an artist would develop and change, it would thus impact every other, at least with respect to how the show was put together spatially and conceptually.

AK:  The physical boundaries of the exhibition have also expanded beyond previous biennials, which were mostly localized in the Whitney, to include over half a month of installations and performances in the vast Park Avenue Armory. How would you define the relationship between the two spaces?

HH:  This year's biennial is one exhibition in two places. At the Armory, we are capturing a range of works and activities that are more ephemeral and live in the moment, or that have central elements of social interaction. However, the vast majority of artists represented at the Armory are also realizing a project or performance in the museum. Numerous works presented in one location are conjunct with works in the other. For example, Amy Granat and Drew Heitzler are recording the audio of a screening and live musical performance at the Armory, which then becomes the soundtrack to T.S.O.Y.W. , their double-screen installation in the museum galleries. We offered every artist participating in the biennial the opportunity to propose a project for the Armory without any predetermined framework or scale, but we were also faced with certain logistical and budgetary limitations, particularly in the nontraditional exhibition space of the Armory.

AK:  Two exhibited installations have already garnered critical attention: Mika Rottenberg's shanty-like structure housing videos of women making cheese and Phoebe Washburn's ecosystem. How would you describe the conceptual functions of these two complex works?

SMM:  Both of those large-scale projects create fantastical, absurdist systems that summon up critical ideas of the productive and industrial systems at large in the world. Rottenberg's ongoing investigations of labor, gender, and the various tropes and complexities therein again take center stage in her Cheese installation, in which she creates an experience loosely based on a real family, the Sutherland Sisters, who were said to have "milked" their extremely long hair to produce a very popular turn-of-the-century hair tonic. Washburn's flower-growing ecosystem is formally engaging, as well as what the artist calls "anti-industrious" and "inefficient," similarly intending to draw the viewer's attention to the system of production itself and not merely the resultant object.

AK:  Painting seems to take a back seat in this year's show: Joe Bradley, Mary Heilman, and Olivier Mosset show abstract canvases, while Karen Kilimnik is the sole figurative painter. What does this selection say about the state of painting today? Do other works in the show somehow simulate the notion of painting?

HH:  There are many exhibited artists whose work is painterly or engages with painting, particularly the relationship between painting and sculpture. Rita Ackermann comes from painting and drawing, but displays a group of collaged, drawn, and painted wall works that function as reversible structures in the gallery. Stephen Prina conceives his room installation The Second Sentence of Everything I Read Is You: The Queen Mary as a painting, as well, and Ellen Harvey, who presents her Museum of Failure , is a painter who treads the line between painting with gleeful pleasure, reflecting on the medium's often-pronounced death, and defending it with what seems like a near-comic redundancy, reflecting on the medium's often-pronounced death and the near-comic redundancy of its defense. The point is that artists are constantly traversing the boundaries of media and can't necessarily or easily be categorized as just one or the other.

AK:  Comparisons have been made between the collage and assemblage aesthetic prevalent in the Whitney Biennial and the New Museum's Unmonumental show, which embraces similar approaches. Are we experiencing a zeitgeist for the use of found materials and detritus?

SMM:  Many of the artists in the exhibition are indeed looking to familiar, everyday materials as a source for the largely sculptural or architectural installations they create. This may variously represent an interest in local referents, where these materials may reflect an examination of the postindustrial urban landscape, or a layered exploration of materiality as a vehicle for social content. With others, the humbleness of the origin material or substance takes on a type of transformative sublime, as subtle interventions, careful accumulation, or deliberate deconstruction of those materials achieves a poetic beauty.

The Whitney Biennial 2008 is on view at New York's Whitney Museum of American Art through June 1. Installations and performances at the Park Avenue Armory, which are organized by the Whitney and Art Production Fund, run through March 23.

Keep Spreading It

Sharing is caring

Invite Your Friends »
About | Contact | Press | Advertising | Design | Subscribe | Unsubscribe | ANTI-SPAM/Privacy Policy