As thick as the phone book of the town I grew up in, the catalogue for the 2014 Whitney Biennial is a whopper, coming in at 419 pages. But seeing as how this year’s Biennial was an impressive three floors, the attendant corridors, stairwells, random outside spaces, and more than 100 artists, maybe it’s not so big after all. Like the Biennial itself, the body of the catalogue is dived into three sections, one for each of the three curators: Stuart Comer, Anthony Elms, and Michelle Grabner. Each of these sections contains a contextualizing essay by the respective curator. In an interesting formal note is that the three sections are printed on different paper, which has the effect of making each section literally feel distinct.
Evaluating a catalogue is difficult; the success depends on what the reader is looking for. As preparatory material for viewing the exhibition, the catalogue is perhaps most successful. I doubt I would have enjoyed the exhibition as much if I had not read all of the essays beforehand. These essays proved invaluable to my visit to the Whitney. I previewed the artwork and made notations about the works with which I wanted to spend a little time. This method is itself flawed, because we all know that seeing a work in person is a very different experience from looking at pictures, no matter how lovely. It also mostly rules out the element of surprise. But honestly, the Whitney Biennial is such a massive undertaking for me as a viewer; this seemed to be my only method of making sense of this large and incongruent collection of artworks.
As a thorough record of the exhibition, the catalogue also succeeds, which in this case is important because the Biennial is nearing its close. When I read a catalogue that is little more than reproductions of the art, with the wall text on the following page, I am disappointed. A person is lucky to view a show once, let alone twice, but a book is different. There’s no end to a textual exhibition. We can visit anytime we want. This is where the catalogue succeeds. The 2014 Biennial contains a substantial amount of performance, audio, and video work. These are notoriously hard to capture on the page. Stuart Comer’s section is rife with essaylettes on selected works. There are writings on the performance works, which is great because although I visited twice, I didn’t manage to coincide with a single performance. Although all of the curators included text-based work, it is most noticeable in Anthony Elms’ section. I missed much of this text during my visit. It was crowded. It was hard to see. Text takes a lot of time. At home with a book, I have all the time in the world.
As an accurate reflection of the 2014 Whitney Biennial, I am less sure of the success of the catalogue. In the introduction the authors state, “If there is any central point of cohesion, it may be the slipperiness of authorship that threads through each of our programs… In many ways, it has simply become inefficient to slow down and figure out who is responsible for a specific idea or action, opening up interesting areas of collaboration.” While the authors are describing the discrete works in the show, perhaps this whole idea might be applied to the Biennial itself; it is very slippery. But the catalogue is intentionally less so, with its Roman numeraled sections, and three different paper stocks, the catalogue makes clearer distinctions than the curators do. The final section is by Michelle Grabner is marked by the inclusion of numerous conversations between artists, including Dawoud Bey, Christopher Williams, Rochelle Feinstein, Gaylen Gerber, to name a few. While all this focus on process seems as if it should make this section feel more slippery, it does the opposite—it concretizes the final section of the book. Real people, real artists, talking to other real people. The overall effect is humanizing, and intimate, a feeling that was impossible experience at the show.
Ultimately, I recommend this catalogue for those who want a serious look at the 2014 Whitney Biennial. This is not a coffee table book, nor is it a casual exhibition catalogue that one can leave on their bedside, to casually flip though before dropping off to sleep. No, this is the kind of catalogue you need to read while sitting up, with a cup of coffee. You might want to take some notes. If you have reading glasses, you better get ‘em.
Whitney Biennial Catalogue 2014
paperback, 416 pages
3rd Language Issue #4: Publication Launch & Group Exhibition, work by Amina Ross, Jory Drew, Ashley McClenon, Camille Laut, Emily Schulert, Hiba Ali, Ale-Ale, Jake Vogds, Joel Mercedes, Margaret Bo-Bo Dancy, Naqeeb Stevens, Oli Rodriguez, Olive Stefanski, Bow-ty, Sarp Kerem Yavuz, Stevie Hanley, and Tavia David.
Defibrillator is located at 1136 N. Milwaukee Ave. Reception Friday, 6-9pm. $10 suggested donation.
Work by Keiichi Tanaami.
Corbett vs. Dempsey is located at 1120 N. Ashland Ave. 3rd Fl. Reception Friday, 5-8pm.
Work by Lucie Fontaine, Brendan Fowler, Gaylen Gerber, and Autumn Ramsey.
Night Club is located at 2017 W. Moffat St. #1. Reception Friday, 7-9pm.
Work by John Wanzel.
D Gallery is located at 623 S. Wabash Ave. Rm. 717D. Reception Friday, 11:45am-12:45pm.
Work by Corinne Halbert.
Peanut Gallery is located at 1000 N. California Ave. Reception Sunday, 5-9pm.
editors note: We have updated the name of the show at Night Club.
Work by Polly Apfelbaum, Ali Bailey, John Baldessari, Madison Brookshire and Tashi Wada, Zachary Buchner, Tyree Callahan, Anne Collier, Jacob Dahlgren, Jose DÃ¡vila, Gaylen Gerber, Adam Grossi, Gary Hill, Rashid Johnson, Anna Kunz, Judy Ledgerwood, IÃ±igo Manglano-Ovalle, and Richard Mosse.
Gallery 400 is located at 400 S. Peoria St. Reception Friday from 5-8pm.
Work by Gustavo Diaz.
The Mission is located at 1431 W. Chicago Ave. Reception Friday from 6-9pm.
Work by Scott Horsley.
Bert Green Fine Art is located at 8 S. Michigan Ave. Suite 1220. Reception Saturday from 4-7pm.
Work by Liliana Porter.
Carrie Secrist Gallery is located at 835 W. Washington. Reception Saturday from 4-7pm.
Work by Barbara DeGenevieve, Brent Garbowski, and Joe Mault.
Slow is located at 2153 W 21st St. Reception Saturday from 6-9pm.
Last night I attended the staff preview for the Art Institute of Chicago’s Modern Wing. The first floor has a Cy Twombly show and a photo show. I don’t think that either of the rooms that these shows were hung in do much justice for the new wing. The ceilings are rather low and there is a lot of work to be seen in such a small space, which makes the museum feel narrow. I didn’t have a chance to see the film video new media section which will be showing a Steve McQueen piece. I was really into Gaylen Gerber’s piece “Backdrop” which consists of large sheets of photo paper pinned to the wall. The photographs are then hung on top of the piece.
The third floor houses the Contemporary collection from 1960 to present. This is where you get the picturesque views of Millennium Park. Yes, there is a lot of light and architecturally it really is a beautiful space to see work. My only gripe is that some of the rooms are filled with too much work. I like to have space to see each piece by itself or see a couple of pieces and how they play off each other. Viewing four pieces in all four walls plus a Calder mobile above you can feel claustrophobic, and causes all of the pieces to meld into one. This made me consider, however, the $18 admission fee to the museum and the average visitor. I would prefer more thoughtfully installed work, but it may be a more bang for your buck situation for the museum.
The Art Institute of Chicago’s Modern Wing opens May 16th