Editor’s Letter

“THE TV BABY SHOT ME,” GROANS MATT DILLON’S WOUNDED character at the end of Gus Van Sant’s Drugstore Cowboy. I thought of this line while walking through the 2004 Whitney Biennial, the words brought to mind by the severe air of unreality to which the observation plainly speaks. Beyond the Whitney Museum’s walls, the everyday seems revelatory—the American occupation of Iraq, the 9/11 testimony unfolding before a congressional commission—and yet the work in the Biennial galleries mostly stands at a safe distance, falling well within the bounds of conventionality. Perhaps this quality of cool remove is nowhere so palpable as among works touching on some aspect of politics. But the favored mode—of looking beyond today in order to tap motifs from past eras, which, in their simultaneous familiarity and lost immediacy, lend the pieces a sense of low-stakes permission—can be easily observed of

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