This Just In!: David Breslin And Adrienne Edwards Will Curate The 2021 Whitney Biennial

The Whitney Museum of American Art announced today that its 2021 Biennial, the 80th edition, will be co-organized by two brilliant members of the Museum’s curatorial department, David Breslin and Adrienne Edwards. The 2021 Whitney Biennial exhibition will open in the spring of 2021 and is presented by Tiffany & Co., which has been the lead sponsor of the Biennial since the Museum’s move downtown.

Image credit: Adrienne Edwards and David Breslin. Photograph by Bryan Derballa

Alice Pratt Brown Director Adam D. Weinberg noted: “The central aim of the Biennial is to be a barometer of contemporary American art. Each Biennial is a reflection of the cultural and social moment as it intersects with the passions, perspectives, and tastes of the curators. David and Adrienne will be a great team. They are inquisitive, curious, and are acutely attuned to the art of the current moment. No doubt they will bring fresh outlooks to this historic exhibition and reinvent it for these complex and challenging times.”

With a long history of exhibiting the most promising and influential artists and provoking debate, the Whitney Biennial is the Museum’s signature survey of the state of contemporary art in the United States. The Biennial, an invitational show of work produced in the preceding two years, was introduced by Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney in 1932, and it is the longest continuous series of exhibitions in the country to survey recent developments in American art.

Initiated by founder Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney in 1932, the Whitney Biennial is the longest-running survey of American art. More than 3,600 artists have participated, including Edward Hopper, Georgia O’Keeffe, Jacob Lawrence, Alexander Calder, Louise Bourgeois, Joan Mitchell, Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Robert Rauschenberg, Claes Oldenburg, Roy Lichtenstein, Agnes Martin, Cy Twombly, Andy Warhol, Ellsworth Kelly, Richard Serra, Lynda Benglis, Frank Bowling, Joan Jonas, Barbara Kruger, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Jenny Holzer, David Wojnarowicz, Glenn Ligon, Yvonne Rainer, Zoe Leonard, Kara Walker, Cindy Sherman, Nan Goldin, Mike Kelley, Lorna Simpson, Renée Green, Wade Guyton, Julie Mehretu, Cecilia Vicuña, Mark Bradford, Daniel Joseph Martinez, Ellen Gallagher, Rachel Harrison, Wu Tsang, Nick Mauss, Sarah Michelson, Laura Owens, Postcommodity, Pope.L, Jeffrey Gibson, and Tiona Nekkia McClodden.

The biennials were originally organized by medium, with painting alternating with sculpture and works on paper. Starting in 1937, the Museum shifted to yearly exhibitions called Annuals. The current format—a survey show of work in all media occurring every two years—has been in place since 1973. The 2019 Biennial (still on partial view on the Museum’s sixth floor until October 27) was organized by two Whitney curators, Jane Panetta and Rujeko Hockley. It featured seventy-five artists and collectives working in painting, sculpture, installation, film and video, photography, performance, and sound.

David Breslin was recently named the DeMartini Family Curator and Director of Curatorial Initiatives, a role he will assume this month. Since joining the Museum in 2016 as DeMartini Family Curator and Director of the Collection, Breslin has spearheaded the Museum’s collection-related activities, curating a series of major collection exhibitions and overseeing acquisitions. Working closely with his curatorial colleagues, he has organized or co-organized four timely and thematized collection displays, including Where We Are: Selections from the Whitney’s Collection, 1900–1960, An Incomplete History of Protest: Selections from the Whitney’s Collection, 1940–2017, Spilling Over: Painting Color in the 1960s, and The Whitney’s Collection: Selections from 1900 to 1965, which is currently on view on the Museum’s seventh floor. In 2018, he co-curated (with David Kiehl) the landmark retrospective David Wojnarowicz: History Keeps Me Awake at Night.

Breslin came to the Whitney from the Menil Drawing Institute, where he created an ambitious program of exhibitions and public and scholarly events and helped to shape the design of the Institute’s new facility. He also oversaw work on the catalogue raisonné of the drawings of Jasper Johns and grew the collection. Prior to the Menil, Breslin served as the associate director of the research and academic program and associate curator of contemporary projects at the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, MA; he also oversaw the Clark’s residential fellowship program and taught in the Williams College Graduate Program in the History of Art. Breslin co-edited Art History and Emergency: Crises in the Visual Arts and Humanities (Yale University Press, 2016), a volume that grew from a Clark Conference he organized with art historian Darby English.

In 2018, Adrienne Edwards was named Engell Speyer Family Curator and Curator of Performance at the Whitney. Previously, she served as curator of Performa since 2010 and as Curator at Large for the Walker Art Center since 2016.

At the Whitney, Edwards curated Jason Moran, the artist’s first museum show, now on view on the Museum’s eighth floor. She originated the exhibition at the Walker in 2018; it previously traveled to the ICA Boston and the Wexner Center for the Arts. The exhibition features a series of performances, Jazz on a High Floor in the Afternoon, curated by Edwards and Moran. She organized the event commencing the construction of David Hammons’s Day’s End, featuring a commission by composer Henry Threadgill and a “water” tango on the Hudson River by the Fire Department of the City of New York’s Marine Company 9. Earlier this year, Edwards organized Moved by the Motion: Sudden Rise, a series of performances based on a text co-written by Wu Tsang, boychild, and Fred Moten, which presented a collage of words, film, movements, and sounds.

For Performa, Edwards realized new boundary-defying commissions, as well as pathfinding conferences and film programs with a wide range of over forty international artists. While at the Walker, she co-led the institution-wide Mellon Foundation Interdisciplinary Initiative, an effort to expand ways of commissioning, studying, collecting, documenting, and conserving cross-disciplinary works. Edwards’s curatorial projects have included the critically acclaimed exhibition and catalogue Blackness in Abstraction, hosted by Pace Gallery in 2016. She also organized Frieze’s Artist Award and Live program in New York in 2018. Edwards taught art history and visual studies at New York University and The New School, and she is a contributor to the National Gallery of Art’s Center for the Advanced Study in Visual Art’s forthcoming publication Black Modernisms.

Scott Rothkopf, the Whitney’s Senior Deputy Director and Nancy and Steve Crown Family Chief Curator, said, “David and Adrienne truly represent the best spirit and ideals of the Whitney. Not only are they devoted to—and beloved by—living artists, but they bring to the art of our time a deep historical and scholarly awareness. The most recent editions of the Biennial have reaffirmed its vitality and relevance, and I look forward to discovering how another pair of Whitney curators will lend their voices to our signature exhibition.”

“Fast Forward: Painting From The 1980s” Opens On January 27 at The Whitney Museum of American Art

In the 1980s, painting recaptured the imagination of the contemporary art world against a backdrop of expansive change. During this explosive period, an unprecedented number of galleries appeared on the scene, particularly in downtown New York. New media, such as video and installation art, was on the rise and both museums and galleries presented an array of ambitious and provocative exhibitions. Yet, despite other mediums such as photography and video gaining traction, many artists actively embraced the medium of painting, exploring its bold physicality and unique capacity for expression and innovation.

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Julia Wachtel (b. 1956), Membership, 1984. Oil on canvas, 66 × 81 in. (167.6 × 205.7 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase, with funds from the Painting and Sculpture Committee 2016.114 © Julia Wachtel; courtesy the artist and Elizabeth Dee New York. Digital Image © Whitney Museum, N.Y.

Fast Forward: Painting from the 1980s offers a focused look at painting from this decade with works drawn entirely from the Museum’s collection. The exhibition will be on view in the Museum’s eighth-floor Hurst Family Galleries from January 27 to May 14, 2017.

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Kenny Scharf (b. 1958), When the Worlds Collide, 1984. Oil and acrylic spray paint on canvas, 122 5/16 × 209 5/16 in. (310.7 × 531.7 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase, with funds from Edward R. Downe, Jr. and Eric Fischl 84.44 © 2016 Kenny Scharf / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

The exhibition features work by artists often identified with the 1980s—Jean-Michel Basquiat, Sherrie Levine, David Salle, and Julian Schnabel—as well as work by a significant number of other celebrated painters (including Carlos Alfonzo, Ross Bleckner, Peter Cain, Louisa Chase, Robert Colescott, Moira Dryer, Eric Fischl, Leon Golub, Keith Haring, Joyce Pensato, Susan Rothenberg, Kenny Scharf, Julia Wachtel, Terry Winters, and Martin Wong). Often through exuberant work that engaged with the heroic gesture or pop imagery, these artists explored the traditions of figuration and history painting, and offered new interpretations of abstraction. Many addressed fundamental questions about art-making in their work, while others took on political issues including AIDS, feminism, gentrification, and war.

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Photograph by Matthew Carasella

Despite painting having been declared dead, artists renegotiated their commitment to the medium in the 1980s, in the face of a media-saturated environment. The medium suddenly came to represent an important intersection between new ways of seeing and a seemingly traditional way of making art—one full of possibility and thriving as many artists actively re-imagined what painting could be.

Fast Forward: Painting from the 1980s is organized by Jane Panetta, associate curator, with Melinda Lang, curatorial assistant.

The Whitney Museum of American Art To Present Two-Floor Exhibition In Celebration Of The Portrait

Human Interest: Portraits from the Whitney’s Collection Complete The Reinstallation Of The Whitney’s Collection In Its New Building

The Selfie, often seen as the height of narcissism in what is essentially an increasingly narcissistic world, is the modern version of what has long been a celebrated art form throughout history: The Portrait. Portraits are one of the richest veins of the Whitney’s collection, thanks to the Museum’s longstanding commitment to the figurative tradition, championed by its founder Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney.

The mysterious power and fascination of the portrait—and the ingenious ways in which artists have been expanding the definition of portraiture over the past 100 years—are celebrated in Human Interest: Portraits from the Whitney’s Collection, to be presented at the Whitney Museum of American Art this spring. The works included in this exhibition propose diverse and often unconventional ways of representing an individual. Many artists reconsider the pursuit of external likeness—portraiture’s usual objective—within formal or conceptual explorations or reject it altogether. Some revel in the genre’s glamour and allure, while others critique its elitist associations and instead call attention to the banal or even the grotesque.

Drawn entirely from the Museum’s collection, the exhibition features more than 300 works made from 1900 to 2016 by an extraordinary range of more than 200 artists, roughly half of whom are living. The show will be organized in twelve thematic sections on two floors of the Museum, with works in all media installed side by side. Floor Six, predominantly focused on art since 1960, opens first, on April 6; Floor Seven, which includes works from the first half of the twentieth century alongside more contemporary offerings, will open on April 27. The exhibition will remain on view through February 12, 2017.

Once a rarified luxury good, portraits are now ubiquitous. Readily reproducible and ever-more accessible, photography has played a particularly vital role in the democratization of portraiture, and will be strongly represented in the exhibition. Most recently, the proliferation of smartphones and the rise of social media have unleashed an unprecedented stream of portraits in the form of selfies and other online posts. Many contemporary artists confront this situation, stressing the fluidity of identity in a world where technology and the mass-media are omnipresent. Through their varied takes on the portrait, the artists in Human Interest: Portraits from the Whitney’s Collection demonstrate the vitality of this enduring genre, which serves as a compelling lens through which to view some of the most important social and artistic developments of the past century.

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Barkley L. Hendricks (b. 1945). Steve, (1976). Oil, acrylic, and Magna on linen canvas, 72 × 48in. (182.9 × 121.9 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase and gift with funds from the Arthur M. Bullowa Bequest by exchange, the Jack E. Chachkes Endowed Purchase Fund, and the Wilfred P. and Rose J. Cohen Purchase Fund 2015.101. Image Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, NY.

Many iconic works from the collection will be included by such artists as Alexander Calder, Marsden Hartley, Edward Hopper, Jasper Johns, Alice Neel, Georgia O’Keeffe, Cindy Sherman, and Andy Warhol. In addition, a number of major new acquisitions will be exhibited at the Whitney for the first time, including Barkley L. Hendricks’s full-length 1976 portrait, Steve; Urs Fischer’s 2015 towering candle sculpture of Julian Schnabel (making its debut); Joan Semmel’s painting of two nude lovers, Touch (1977); Henry Taylor’s depiction of Black Panther leader Huey Newton (2007); Deana Lawson’s striking color photograph The Garden (2015); and Rosalyn Drexler’s Pop masterwork Marilyn Pursued by Death (1963). The exhibition will extend to the Museum’s outdoor galleries on Floors Seven and Six, the latter of which will feature Paul McCarthy’s monumental bronze sculpture White Snow #3 (2012), also a new acquisition.

Following is a selection of several of the sections in which the exhibition will be divided:

PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST

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Edward Hopper (1882‑1967). (Self‑Portrait), (1925‑1930). Oil on canvas, Overall: 25 3/8 × 20 3/8in. (64.5 × 51.8 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Josephine N. Hopper Bequest 70.1165. © Heirs of Josephine N. Hopper, licensed by Whitney Museum of American Art

On the seventh floor, the section “Portrait of the Artist” brings together self-portraits with portraits of artists and other members of the creative community, a moving window into the way artists see themselves and their relationships with one another. On view will be Edward Hopper’s iconic self-portrait in oil in a brown hat, as well as a pair of drawings by Hopper and Guy Pène du Bois, each depicting the other and made during a single sitting. Other works depict artists with the tools of their trade—Ilse Bing is seen in a photograph holding the shutter release of her camera; Mabel Dwight uses a mirror as an aid in drawing herself; Andreas Feininger photographs himself regarding a strip of film through a magnifying glass. Other works in this section include Cy Twombly photographed by Robert Rauschenberg; Jasper Johns by Richard Avedon; Georgia O’Keeffe drawn by Peggy Bacon; Edgard Varèse sculpted in wire by Alexander Calder; Langston Hughes photographed by Roy DeCarava; Berenice Abbott by Walker Evans; Yasuo Kuniyoshi by Arnold Newman; and a double portrait of Joseph Stella and Marcel Duchamp taken by Man Ray.

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Rachel Harrison (b. 1966). Untitled, (2011). Colored pencil on paper, Sheet: 19 × 24in. (48.3 × 61 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase, with funds from the Drawing Committee 2012.81. © Rachel Harrison

EARLY TWENTIETH CENTURY CELEBRITY AND SPECTACLE

In the early decades of the twentieth century, a spectrum of new, popular leisure pursuits—vaudeville, theater, cabaret, sporting events, and above all, motion pictures—thrust performers and entertainers into the public eye as never before. For the crowds that flocked to see them, the stars of these entertainments became larger-than-life figures, and an array of media outlets, from tabloid newspapers to glossy magazines to radio, sprang up to broadcast their exploits to captivated audiences across the nation. Artists eagerly delved into these new phenomena, creating portraits that stoked the public’s growing fascination with celebrities. At the turn of the century, painters such as Howard Cushing and Everett Shinn investigated the changing terms of fame and glamour as flashy public spectacles eclipsed Gilded Age refinement. Following World War I many artists joined in the commercial opportunities offered by the booming entertainment industry—particularly photographers, whose easily reproducible images carried a special air of authenticity. Foremost among them, Edward Steichen pioneered the aesthetic of the “closeup” in his stylish magazine portraits of movie stars and other luminaries, such as Marlene Dietrich, Dolores Del Rio, and Paul Robeson. Other photographers such as James Van Der Zee, Toyo Miyatake, and Carl Van Vechten called attention to vanguard performers whose race or ethnicity placed them outside the mainstream, challenging the sanitized imperatives of popular culture.

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Toyo Miyatake (1895‑1979). Michio Ito, (1929). Gelatin silver print, Sheet: 14 × 10 7/8in. (35.6 × 27.6 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase, with funds from the Photography Committee 2014.241. © Toyo Miyatake Studio

STREET LIFE

Under the rubric of “Street Life” the exhibition presents artists who took to the pavement with their cameras, photographing subjects as they encountered them, sometimes surreptitiously. These images, which often capture fleeting, serendipitous moments, present a counterpoint to the premeditated, sedentary sitter of historical portraits. At the turn of the last century it became clear that the camera could become an apparatus for the indictment of a society’s ills and a group of socially aware photographers became activists in addition to observers of the urban environment. An early work in the exhibition, Lewis Hine’s Newsies at Skeeters Branch, St. Louis, Missouri (c. 1910), exemplifies this type of politically motivated street photography. Other works documenting the spectacle of urban life include Walker Evans’s subway photographs; Helen Levitt’s images taken on the streets of Yorktown and Spanish Harlem; and examples from Garry Winogrand’s Women Are Beautiful portfolio. Artists featured in this section also include Diane Arbus, Robert Frank, Lee Friedlander, and Nan Goldin. The tradition of street photography is carried through to more recent works by Dawoud Bey and Philip-Lorca di Corcia.

PORTRAITS WITHOUT PEOPLE

Is likeness essential to portraiture? The works in this section, spanning the past one hundred years, ask this question as they pursue alternate means for capturing an individual’s personality, values, and experiences. Often, the presence of the individual or his or her character is implied through objects and symbols that resonate with hidden meaning. Gerald Murphy’s Cocktail (1927), a bold, Jazz Age still life suggests a uniquely autobiographical approach: the accoutrements of a typical 1920s bar tray were based on Murphy’s memory of his father’s bar accessories and the cigar box cover shows a robed woman surrounded by items that allude to Murphy himself, including a boat (he was an avid sailor) and an artist’s palette. Marsden Hartley’s Painting, Number 5 (1914–15), a portrait of Karl von Freyburg, uses German imperial military regalia to stand in for the presence of the officer with whom the artist had fallen in love. In Summer Days (1936), Georgia O’Keeffe adopted the animal skull and vibrant desert wildflowers as surrogates for herself, symbols of the cycles of life and death that shape the desert world she made her home. Jasper Johns’s portrait of a Savarin coffee can full of brushes stands for Johns himself; and James Welling’s portrait of Philip Johnson’s Glass House in New Canaan, CT, may be viewed as a sort of portrait of the famous architect. In a number of works in this section, body parts or personal possessions may allude to the subject, such as Jay DeFeo’s teeth; Alfred Stieglitz’s hat; and Ed Ruscha’s shoes. Forgoing likeness in favor of allusion and enigma, these artists expand the possibilities of the portrait, while also acknowledging that the quest to depict others—and even ourselves—is elusive. Continue reading