As the World Turns

Paige K. Bradley at the opening of the 79th Whitney Biennial

Jeffrey Gibson’s People Like Us, 2019.

PREVIOUSLY ON Days of Our Outrage, the Whitney Biennial was a political disaster in medias res. (And the first takes made it all look so hunky dory.) In the lead-up to the current edition (the seventy-ninth!), there was controversy over stunning revelations that extremely wealthy people—maybe the only ones who would buy your elaborate video installations and enormous paintings—don’t tend to come by their riches by doing good. #Notsurprised, I suppose? Taking an ethical position these days seems to be like picking and choosing from an entirely rotten buffet—it’d be lovely not to have a tumbler of teargas-tainted money, but what to do with that huge bowl of oil-baron funding? Which is to say, the Whitney staff’s demand to develop a real policy about trustee participation should be heeded, since that would help with the real questions: Who is Warren B. Kanders traded for? What should a museum demand of funders, and what, if anything, are they owed in return? I can’t say how it’ll turn out—the Guerilla Art Action Group tried to get the Rockefellers out of MoMA in the 1960s . . . and here we are today.

The debates centered on the Whitney’s situation seem to be a microcosm of the broader conundrum that is arts funding, and it’s an unfortunate circumstance for both the curators—Rujeko Hockley and Jane Panetta—and the artists of this year’s biennial. I’m not big on punishing women for the things men do, and if you are, then you’re reading the wrong feminist’s Diary! But given that there have been admirably consistent weekly anti-Kanders protests led by Decolonize This Place at the museum in the prelude to the opening, I was anticipating some agitprop drama during Tuesday night’s private reception. Turns out that the group is saving that gesture for the public opening on Friday, which seems appropriately democratic. But then again, the scene at the private opening was rather dull, with one notable exception being artist Bunny Rogers’s gorgeous vintage Miu Miu ensemble, a sight for any true aesthete’s sore eyes. Otherwise, I had been hoping for a frisson of discord, or at least some unruliness. As @dril would tweet on Wednesday afternoon: “Where are my damn freaks . . . where are my fuckin doofuses.” The most upsetting incident might have been making so many invitees wait in the rain to get in, a kind of purgatory the inimitable Eileen Myles obviously had no time for as they cut the whole line. They also rolled up during the main course of a dinner at the Standard’s Grill Café on Monday night—held in honor of Korakrit Arunanondchai, Alex Gvojic, and boychild’s collaborative works for WhiBi and the Venice Biennale—and signaled they were ready to dine, now. Never get in the way of a poet reclaiming their time, or their meal!

As for the show, highlights included the grand damn freak Nicole Eisenman’s reference to gases both amusingly neutral and politically noxious with her contribution of delightfully outré outdoor sculptures—one of which breaks wind at regular intervals—as well as a sticker distributed at the opening, made in collaboration with the original Garbage Pail Kids illustrators, satirizing Kanders’s artwashing of teargas profits through arts funding. John Edmonds’s subtle, gorgeous photographs of figures gently proffering or quietly considering masks and other objects from the Ivory Coast, installed in a side gallery and corridor, along with composer and performer Laura Ortman’s mesmerizing video of herself playing violin in different landscape scenes, won’t necessarily command attention from people looking for Big Statement Pieces, but they’re some of the best works in the exhibition. People may want art to “do more,” but as I once heard the venerable Dorothea Rockburne say, “Don’t give art a job, don’t put it to work. It’s a language; don’t make it ‘do.’” I’m sure I haven’t the foggiest idea what a Whitney Biennial will do for anyone, besides provide the possibility of more shows for the artists included in this one and conversational fodder for everyone else. But I have an inkling about which works in the show can speak for themselves, and I’d like you to figure it out for yourself, too.

The later part of the evening, for me, featured, sadly, a few more fuckin’ doofuses than damn freaks. There was the usual jockeying for position to get into afterparties on Tuesday night—first at the Jane Hotel for a shindig co-organized by galleries 47 Canal, Hannah Hoffman, and Bridget Donahue, then downtown at La Caverna for a Karma, Simon Lee, and Clearing coproduction. There was no list for the latter party, so things got 2 Democratic 2 Fast at the door, with some outlandish kerfuffle about letting no one in—a kind of equality, I suppose—after which a dude, surely an ally of working people, started yelping at the doorman that he was a “fascist” and repeatedly demanded to know if he was “in the art world.” Drizzling rain made the contretemps all the more pathetic, but it was at least amusing when a friend rolled up to tell me I looked like an active shooter in my hoodie, vintage D.A.R.E. T-shirt, a washcloth paper-clipped to the waist of my Korean miniskirt, and Rick Owens Drkshdw tube shoes. Artist Zak Kitnick stepped outside the club and was then promptly banned from going back in, prompting local artist, dealer, and soup blogger Jordan Barse to start a freedom movement for him that lasted all of five minutes. It was sweet, and I have video should any archivist need it. After being admitted by the #fascist bouncers, I was able to witness artist Andrei Koschmieder scaling the sculpted cave walls in pursuit of a place to hang his coat. The fascists didn’t care much for this either! Krit was moshing around to Total Freedom’s DJ set wearing, as local take-meister Dean Kissick claimed while screaming into my ear, a Supreme x Jean Paul Gaultier harness, and I heard tell that someone named José had coke. Which I put my #resist pedal to and didn’t pursue leads on, since the international drug trade and teargas are surely complementary forces in sowing utter mayhem, violence, and devastation across the globe, but one is a standard feature of art-world parties and the other we stage protests about. Outrage cycles come and go, but I’ll always be here to say D.A.R.E. to resist drugs and violence, no matter what my ’fit looks like.

Zak Kitnick outside La Caverna. Photo: Jordan Barse.

Artists Benjamin Kellogg and Bunny Rogers. Photo: Matthew Carlson.

Whitney director Adam D. Weinberg. Photo: Matthew Carlson.

Artists Maikoiyo Alley-Barnes and Tiona Nekkia. Photo: Matthew Carlson.

Christine Sun Kim. Photo: Matthew Carlson.

Paige K. Bradley and Domenick Ammirati with Nicole Eisenman’s anti-Warren Kanders stickers. Photo: Paige K. Bradley.