PRINT March 1973

16 Whitney Museum Annuals of American Painting, Percentages 1950–72

1950 catalogue: “. . . by varying the list of exhibitors from year to year, we have been able to show the work of 1100 artists from 43 states, with an average of about 20 states most of the exhibitors live and work in New York, the inevitable result of that city’s preeminence as an art center the museum should accept full responsibility for what is shown in its galleries, and not delegate this responsibility to outside juries.” Hermon More, director; staff not listed.

1951 catalogue: “. . . 150 artists from 20 states; 64 who have not exhibited in our Painting Annuals, and 103 who were not included in last year’s exhibition.” Hermon More; staff not listed.

1952, 1953, 1954, staff not listed.

1955, 1956, 1957, 1958, 1959, 1960, anonymous introductions; staff not listed.

1961 catalogue lists curatorial staff for the first time. 1963, 1965,1967, anonymous introductions; staff listed.

1963 Annual news release: “. . . the judgment of a staff familiar with contemporary art, and always on the lookout for new artists, is as reliable and impartial as that of outside juries ... we believe that it enables the museum to keep a balance between different schools, and to maintain consistent policies from year to year.” Lloyd Goodrich, director.

1965 Annual news release quotes 1963 Goodrich statement: “Interest is always high in the new artists who have never exhibited at the Whitney Museum.” 138 artists, 20 new, 41 from outside New York.

1967–72: Ford Foundation Grant to the Whitney Museum to facilitate showing the work of artists based outside New York.

1969 catalogue: “. . . geographical coverage is as wide as the Museum can make it.” John I. H. Baur, director; staff listed.

1969 press release: 143 artists, 75 under 35, 8 under 25, 34 have not previously exhibited at the Museum.

1972 press release: “Aided by a Ford Foundation Grant, the Museum’s curators have traveled extensively to search out the most interesting work being produced in various parts of the country.” 132 artists, 44 for the first time, 69 under 35, 28 under 30.

Dec. 28, 1972 press release (for the 1973 Biennial): “The Biennial will show the work of relatively unknown artists as well as that of established artists . . . selected from various parts of the country.”

Some Figures:

1. 907 artists.

2. 2287 paintings.

3. 62 artists have exhibited 8 or more times (50% of the Annuals).

4. 7 women have exhibited 8 or more times.

5. 5 artists exhibiting 8 or more times are from outside the New York area.

Note: Listed as metropolitan area (or New York-based) are those localities near New York where artists tend (or have tended) to congregate: East Hampton, Provincetown, etc. Other areas in New England will be considered outside New York, in more isolated contact. Such definition is arbitrary, but basically the generalization will hold. An artist handled by a New York gallery over an extended period of time is not listed as New York-based if living away from New York.

6. 191 artists have exhibited 4 or more times.

7. 19 women have exhibited 4 or more times.

8. 25 outside-the-area artists have exhibited 4 or more times.

9. 454 artists have exhibited on one occasion only.

10. 453 artists have exhibited more than once.

11. 289 metropolitan area artists have exhibited on only one occasion. This is 44.5% (648 metropolitan area artists). A New York-based artist has a 55.5% chance of being shown more than once.

12. 259 of the 907 are from outside the New York area. This is 28.5%. This is a good percentage if viewed in respect to a single listing.

13. 165 of the 259 have exhibited only once. This is 64%. An outside-the-area artist has only a 36% chance of being shown more than once.

A Comparison of the First Five Annuals (1950–54) and the Last Five Annuals (1963–72):

1. 1950–54: 415 artists.

2. 1963–72: 413 artists.

3. 1950–54: 228 artists exhibited once.

4. 1963–72: 225 artists exhibited once.

5. 1950–54: 123 out of 415 are outside-the-area artists; this is 30%.

6. 1963–72: 99 out of 413 are outside-the-area artists; this is 24%, a drop of 20% from 1950-54.

7. 1950–54: 148 out of a total of 292 metropolitan area artists showed only once. This is 51%. A metropolitan area artist had a 49% chance of being shown more than once.

8. 1963–72: 157 of 314 metropolitan area artists showed only once, exactly 50%.

9. 1950–54: 80 out of 123 outside-the-area artists exhibited only once. This is 65%. An outside-the-area artist had only a 35% chance of being shown more than once.

10. 1963–72: 68 out of 99 outside the area artists showed only once. This is 68.5%. An outside-the-area artist had only a 31.5% chance of being shown more than once.

Some Conclusions:

1. There is an amazing consistency for 16 Annuals (23 years) in both total numbers and in percentages.

2. Outside-the-area artists (the “provincials”) have less opportunity today than in 1950 both in terms of total numbers and in percentage of opportunity.

3. This is true despite the Ford Foundation Grant (1967–72) for the express purpose of facilitating the showing of out-of-town art.

4. The above occurs despite the recent special Whitney interest in California art. Figures for this run as follows: 1965, 9 artists; 1967, 24 artists; 1969, 21 artists; 1972, 10 artists.

Note that the total of these four years (minus 1963) is 64 artists from California, i.e., virtually 2/3 of the out-of-town artists for this five-year period. No doubt this figure results in part from Artforum’s influence, particularly when published on the West Coast. Artists outside New York, who do not live in California, can thus calculate at their leisure their percentage chance of appearing in the Whitney Biennial.

5. The reader is referred to the quotes at the start of this article. The Museum prides itself on the introduction of new artists. What is not mentioned is that the great majority are never exhibited again. This has been continuous policy. The new artists function as window dressing. The listings from 1950–72 point up how strongly the Whitney has stood behind established positions. The Whitney has been a strong force for the stabilization of reputations.

6. There are no villains in all this, but there are no heroes either. Curators come and (slowly) go, but the statistics remain the same. The artists, the variables, are rated by the curators, the nonvariables. It would be minimally necessary to make the selection process variable in order to, at least partially, change the system.

7. The Whitney Annuals are “house” exhibitions. Control is maintained through institutional stability. Continuity of situational contexts is filtered through the curatorial staff and served up with side orders of excitement.

8. Bland corporate goodwill and institutional stability finally mean that the staff is susceptible to climate of opinion (which can be both good and bad) and responds more or less awkwardly to pressure (angry out groups, blacks, and women) without serious change. The Museum is more susceptible to typical art world pressures, various pockets of power. A logical explanation of the decreased presence of out-of-town artists is the increased pressure that is a result of the successes of New York art.

9. The curators are (willing) victims of the corporate system, hostages to their assigned roles, the tacit interlocking of their position, that of the Whitney as an institution, the pressures of galleries, the market system, the art magazines, the artists, collectors, etc. The jurying system permits consensus selection, which is a typical corporate mechanism. Blame or anger is diffused through anonymity or group choice.

Key to the listings:

“A” means New York area artist. “B” means out-of-town. “C” means a New York gallery. “D” means a gallery outside New York. “E” means the “New Decade” show of 1955 which is combined with the 1954 Annual (put on in 1955), as the Whitney saw them as related exhibitions. These listings begin in 1950. Some of the artists listed will be deceased during this period, others will ebb in reputation (in respect to the Whitney), other artists will be in midstream, etc. The same holds, partially in reverse, for the other end of the listing, 1972, with new artists arriving on the scene, etc.

To begin this compilation in 1950 and to end it in 1972 is to view this Whitney Museum showcase in the decades of American power after World War II, years of art success and American art hegemony.

All symbols are based on Whitney catalogue information. Percentages are based on this information with the rare exception of artist’s listed under New York galleries who are known to live outside the New York area.