The Whitney Biennial for Angry Women // Eunsong Kim and Maya Isabella Mackrandilal
Rogue counting is finding numbers that institutions don’t want to produce, and we believe it’s essential to apply it to white curatorial practices. But the problem is structural, rooted in a long violent genealogy of gatekeeping. In the tradition of the Zapatistas, we talk back to the institution by translating its language. The following quotes are drawn from the curators’ introduction to the Biennial catalogue:
“We hope that our iteration of the Biennial will suggest the profoundly diverse and hybrid cultural identity of America today.”
Translation: “The 2014 Whitney Biennial is the whitest Biennial since 1993. Taking a cue from the corporate whitewashing of network television, high art embraces white supremacy under the rhetoric of multicultural necessity and diversity.”
“It became clear that we were inspired by a number of the same artists…”
Translation: “There are only so many white artists. You bump into the same ones again and again at parties.”
“If there is any central point of cohesion, it may be the slipperiness of authorship that threads through each of our programs.”
Translation: “We read Barthes’s ‘The Death of the Author’ in college and still cling to it as a justification for all of our specious curatorial practices. We don’t think about how it describes a cultural landscape rooted in white supremacy, where the positionality of the author is irrelevant. Questions of profit (i.e., who’s getting paid and who’s gaining power) will be conveniently ignored.”
“The exhibition and this catalogue offer a rare chance to look broadly at different types of work and various modes of working that can be called contemporary American art.”
Translation: “Our definition of different and broad is rooted in a definition of the art world that excludes the vast majority of the cultural production of people of color and others at the margins.”
“Some borders—formal, conceptual, geographic, temporal—get tested, but we can still see through the assembled projects and people how the breadth of art is expanding because it is the artist and makers themselves who are pushing boundaries by collaborating, using the materials of others, digging through archives, returning to supposedly forlorn materials, or refusing to neatly adhere to a medium or discipline.”
Translation: “Why can’t there be women abstract painters?” Why is this conversation happening? It’s so boring we’re falling asleep. Abstract expressionism is the expression of white male capitalist identity—why keep it alive? Let’s just decapitate the white male artists and dealers who believe this and be done with it.
The curatorial statement at the entrance to the fourth floor reads:Donelle Woolford [Joe Scanlan] radically calls into question the very identity of the artist …Translation: “Joe Scanlan is a white male professor from Yale who created a black female persona to promote his work, because he thinks that black bodies give their owners an unfair advantage on the art market. We are more comfortable with white fantasies of the other than examining lived experience. We don’t give a fuck about the history of blackface, carnival representations of the other, or violent displays of captured indigenous peoples as museum objects. We believe in our hearts that we are beyond this.
Translation: “What if we stopped searching for the implications of the white imagination and instead celebrated its racist and colonialist fantasies?”
The white man understands everything better than you, okay? He will use fictional black female identities and then their bodies as props to help you understand cuz he’s afraid that if it comes from him, you might not pay attention. (I’m sorry, but this has never happened. Still, it’s good to know that this is his greatest fear.) #DominantCulturePersecutionComplex
He understands the world better. That’s why he’s the director, the manager, the CEO, okay? That’s why he is in charge of hiring, and we get to be hired, okay?! It’s just the way that things work. He comes up with the ideas. You get paid to play your part. Do you get paid royalties? Do you become credited in the company? Are you the artist? No. But that’s not the point. The point is that he showed us something old that looked like something new, and we must be grateful. Okay?
The manager, the director, and the CEO are neocolonialsts. He will help us understand that this is art. Diversification (i.e., the multicultural transnationalism of corporate enterprise) is beautiful to the white man director in charge of the spending accounts.
There is nothing wrong with him. There is only something wrong with you, the employee who refuses to submit to his gaze.
He will refuse his whiteness because he believes it’s possible to refuse our embodiments. He will cite a nonsensical theory about essentialism or Foucault. He will refuse his whiteness as if whiteness can be refused even as it’s constantly being affirmed.