The 2017 Whitney Biennial Is the Most Politically Charged in Decades
The 2017 Whitney Biennial got caught in an almost extinction-level political crosswind. Research and the selection for the show began in 2015 at the height of the Age of Obama, the apotheosis of the granular politics of identity and multiple subjectivities, systemic investigation into socioeconomic structures, biographies and autobiography, the rise of personal trauma narratives, and continual attempts to set historical records straight. This was to be the first biennial in a brand-new, beautiful downtown building dedicated to these progressive truths which the art world holds to be self-evident (and which Michelle Obama, in fact, had helped inaugurate). Half of the show is women and people of color; there are no art stars or heavy footprints of mega-galleries or the market. The arc of history was liberal.
Then on November 8, 2016, history jumped the track and we all found ourselves on the deck of a social-political Titanic. Thus, the 2017 Whitney Biennial was organized in one era and exists in another. I leadingly asked the show’s two 30-something Asian-American curators, Christopher Y. Lew and Mia Locks, if they altered anything after the election. Nodding with patient understanding but unshaken, both firmly said, “We didn’t change course.” By all rights then, this is the first, last, and only Hillary Clinton biennial.