Lots of virtual ink has been spilled recently regarding the announcement of the 2014 Whitney Biennial artists. Cheers are due for handing the selection duties to three curators outside of the Whitney crew–Anthony Helms (Associate Curator at the Institute of Contemporary Art), Michelle Grabner (artist and Painting and Drawing Department Professor at the School of the Art Institute, Chicago), and Stuart Comer (MoMA’s Chief Curator of Media and Performance Art)–and for including interdisciplinary artists and art collectives, but a resounding round of jeers reverberated through the art world when the stats were given closer examination.
Despite the assertion of Donna De Salvo, the Whitney’s Chief Curator and Deputy Director for Programs, that “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”, Hyperallergic’s Jillian Steinhauer noted that the number of women artists in the 2014 exhibition is less than in 2012, and that’s including Donelle Woolford, the fictional female creation of artist Joe Scanlan.
And though it’s heartening that the upcoming Biennial includes two artists of African descent that I’ll have the pleasure of working with in the near future (Terry Adkins and Dawoud Bey), it is by no means even close to being representative of the amazing body of work being produced by black contemporary artists in the United States.
I was also struck by the lack of geographic diversity. The lineup is predictably heavy with artists living and working in New York City, Los Angeles, and Chicago. Hopefully, one of these years curators will notice that the Midwestern United States doesn’t begin and end with the Windy City. [Future Biennial curators, I point you toward one of my favorite Tumblrs, Fly Over Art, for reference.]
While it’s impossible for one exhibition to be everything to everyone, I think curators should strive to be as inclusive as possible, even if it takes more time and research than ever before, and especially if the endeavor makes them feel uncomfortable. That’s when you know you’re on the right track.