Jack Bankowsky

David Hockney, Interior with Lamp, 2003; Saturday Rain II, 2003; and View from Terrace III, 2003. Elizabeth Peyton, Walt, 2003; Julian, 2003; and Lady with Ermine 1480–90 (after Leonardo da Vinci), 2003. Photo: Kate Lacey.

Writing on the heels of the show’s opening, New Yorker critic Peter Schjeldahl proclaimed Elizabeth Peyton, court painter to the postgrunge imperium, the “moral center” of the current installment of the Whitney Biennial. At first I thought my favorite art-critical stylist daft: One had better be possessed of like gifts, I mulled, even to contemplate a counterintuitive flourish of such breathtaking magnitude. What could possibly land this celebrity-doting miniaturist at the center of anything, let alone a “moral” center? Then it hit me: The answer is everything!

I will confess up front that I heartily disagree with Schjeldahl’s celebration both of Peyton’s work and of painting in this Biennial more generally, which to me feels tepid across the board. (I’m excepting Richard Prince—I don’t count him a painter here, though one just as easily might; and I reserve a word of praise for

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