Pamela M. Lee

Yayoi Kusama, Fireflies on the Water, 2002.

In 1966, Robert Smithson took Donald Judd on one of his rock-hunting excursions to New Jersey, a trip recollected in his typically hallucinatory essay “The Crystal Land.” Far from so much New Age hooey, Smithson’s mania for all things crystalline was meant to counter humanistic writing about art. In essays such as “Quasi-Infinities and the Waning of Space,” he opposed the glacial, multifaceted structure of these geological specimens to the organic histories and teleological endgames of contemporary art criticism. In ways not quite articulated by its curators, Smithson’s ghost haunts this year’s Whitney Biennial, which proves a different kind of Crystal Land. As Biennial curators Chrissie Iles, Shamim M. Momin, and Debra Singer write, “A new generation of artists is distinguishing itself by its engagement with the politics, popular culture, and art of the late 1960s and early 1970s”

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