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David Joselit

Raymond Pettibon, Title on the Line (detail), 2004.

If you’re trying to sort out the tangled themes of a Whitney Biennial, consider which older or more eminent artists are included in the exhibition—they usually offer helpful clues, and this year’s installment is no exception. I came to the Biennial hoping to gain some understanding of the recent resurgence of painting, particularly figurative painting (a phenomenon epitomized by the John Currin retrospective and one that is widespread in galleries and art schools across the country). Given this preoccupation, three touchstone figures stood out for me: Raymond Pettibon, David Hockney, and the late Stan Brakhage. The last of these was, of course, neither a painter nor exactly a practitioner of figuration, but his eleven-minute film Persian Series 13–18 (2001) is nonetheless exemplary of what seemed a widespread tactic among Biennial artists: exploring painterly issues through

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