Welcome back to the second installment of What You Should Have Noticed, my monthly roundup of those salient conversations and notable events worthy of attention, even in retrospect. March has me feeling doubly unequipped to write this, given all that’s gone on in Chicago and New York with the fairs and biennial drama and everything; but I’ll do my best for you, dear reader, and for all the Bad at Sports readership, and for history itself.

1. The Whitney Biennial

It was only sixteen months since the Whitney Museum of Art announce that its curators for the 2014 Whitney Biennial would include our city’s very own Michelle Grabner and long-time Chicagoan Anthony Elms, who would, along with Tate Modern’s Stuart Comer, select the art and artists for contemporary art’s biggest stage. For many artists in Chicago and elsewhere, the curatorial gaze had suddenly and dramatically widened to include artists from outside the center, hammering away in lofts along Chicago’s Kedzie industrial corridor, or busy making and archiving in basements and office spaces around the country. When the list of artists was finally revealed, it sprawled to a staggering one hundred and three participants (one hundred and three!), seventeen of which hailing from Chicago (seventeen!) and all to be corralled into the space’s three floors, with each curator taking an entire floor as his or her separate territory. It would be the last exhibition at the Whitney’s uptown space, and it would be a bang.

The shake out comes from all sides: there have been dozens of articles reviewing the Whitney Biennial, and dozens of comments on different art writers rushing to be the first to review what was, in my experience, a dense exhibition requiring more than my bleary attention, and far more than even an expert’s two hour flyover. Holland Cotter exploited dessert metaphors for the New York Times, calling the fair “a large, three-tiered cake of a show, mostly vanilla, but laced with threads of darker, sharper flavor, and with a lot of frosting on top,” but praising its variety. In his New York Magazine review, Saltz recommended Grabner’s painting-stuffed third floor, while describing the whole Biennial as “optically starved, aesthetically buttoned-up, pedantic,” and later old, irrelevant, generic, noncommittal, bland, big, and bad. Pedro Vélez included a review of the Biennial in his work for exhibition itself: a quick and hashtagged postcard in which he barbed the Whitney’s racial elements (too white!) and praised many artists. A number of writers picked up on Jillian Steinhauer’s impression, as she wrote in her quickly-published Hyperalleric review, that the Whitney lacked political content. This in turn became fuel for a small social media comment storm lamenting lazy or eager critics glossing everything but the most explicit in the rare to publish first. In Chicago, Jason Foumberg’s review for NewCity condensed his week of repeat viewings into just a few hundred words, celebrating Steve Reinke’s video and Elijah Burgher’s drawings and paintings, along with the archival impulses within the Biennial, and admitting the depth of the works selected by writing that “the energy to observe these artworks could equal the labor of their creation.”

There are plenty more reviews to mention, but suffice to say that the Whitney Biennial dominated this month’s conversation on art. The other fairs in New York at the time (Independent, the Armory, Scope, Volta, Moving Image, Fountain) each made their own buzzes, but nothing in comparison to the heat and tweet generated by the Whitney.

 2. The Gay Mafia

Somewhat related to the above, a ripple of this month’s Biennial. In the post-card Whitney review published by Pedro Vélez, the artist-slash-critic made mention of queer art’s prevalence in the biennial, writing that “curators have kept Cultural/Racial identity in the closet (*a good thing) while Queer identity has a strong presence (*a bit too much, some call it an art world “mafia”).” Shit fire and hell, conspiring gays! To continue repeating names, this week Jason Foumberg interviewed David Getsy, chair of the art history, theory, and criticism department at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, for Chicago Magazine, and asked Getsy about the crucial question: is there a gay mafia in the art world? Short answer, the queer community in Chicago is doing what the art community in general is awful at: conversing about critical topics relevant to their diverse practices, nourishing one another’s work and careers, and building a shared momentum.

 3. Comfort Station

For Logan Square residents and those that don’t mind their company, this month has seen a full block of events produced by the design collective The Post Family at the Square’s Comfort Station. Events have included a photo safari, a bike maintenance and bikerly business expo, YouTube open mic night, and music from Marcus Schmickler, a smartphone symphony, and more. An excellent use of the space and place.

4. Residency Apps are Due

Hey, don’t forget – the next weeks are the last for many residency applications, including ACRE, Ox-Bow’s MFA residency, and many others. Don’t get stuck in the city while all of your artist friends are making art in the woods and gay conspiring around campfires.


And that’s it! I apologize that this article, much like this month’s discourse, was dominated by a single topic, but such are the currents of visual culture. Check back next month as we enter spring with its myriad MFA shows, museum openings, and all the spills, thrills, and chills of art’s forward plow. Cheers!

Steve Ruiz
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