“Bitter slog” for painting in the Whitney Biennial

“Devotees of painting will be on a near-starvation diet, with the work of only Joe Bradley, Mary Heilmann, Karen Kilimnik, Olivier Mosset and (maybe) Cheyney Thompson to sustain them. Hard-line believers in art as visual pleasure will have, poor things, a bitter slog. But if the show is heedless of traditional beauty, it is also firm in its faith in artists as thinkers and makers rather than production-line workers meeting market demands. Not so long ago, Whitney biennials were little more than edited recaps of gallery seasons. Much of the art in them had already been exhibited in galleries and commercially preapproved. By contrast, the Whitney commissioned the bulk of what appears in the 2008 biennial expressly for the occasion. If some artists failed to meet curatorial hopes, others seized the chance to push in new directions. Whatever the outcome, the demonstration of institutional faith was important. It means that, for better or worse, the new art in this show is genuinely new.” Read more of Holland Cotter’s review in the NYTimes.

Peter Schjeldahl reports in The New Yorker that the few painters in the show are well chosen and register keenly. “The veteran abstractionist Mary Heilmann is famous for what may at first look to be fast, brushy messes but which hang together with the mysterious cogency of free jazz. Three new pictures that are challengingly woozy, even for her, broadcast a smiling sympathy with the show�s bravely irresolute youngsters. Karen Kilimnik, with a typical installation of girlishly romantic canvases on themes of bygone European aristocracy, in a room with a pretty chandelier, offers similar reassurance, to the effect that confused feelings are a problem only if you insist on making them one. Sharply surprising is the inclusion of taciturn paintings of benumbingly ordinary suburban streets by the finest of the first-generation photo-realists, Robert Bechtle, whose style has hardly varied in more than forty years. But take their philosophical measure: a stony refusal to believe that we ever know what we see, put to a test of things�dull houses, parked cars�that seem too obvious to merit even passing attention.” Read more.

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