2012 Whitney Biennial: Long on video and film, short on painting

Last week the list of artists selected for the 2012 Whitney Biennial was leaked, and everyone scrambled to see who was on it. Few of the names were familiar to me other than painters Nicole Eisenman, Andrew Masullo; artists Mike Kelley, Liz Deschenes, Vincent Fecteau, Nick Mauss, and Elaine Reichek; and filmmakers Fredrick Wiseman (a master documentarian–remember Titicut Follies?), Kelly Reichardt (Meek’s Cutoff–one of my favorite films from this past year), Werner Herzog, and Vincent Gallo. I did a little research this morning, and it turns out the 2012 Biennial will be long on filmmaking and video, but woefully short on painting. Here are links to the 51 artists selected, organized into broad categories but many of the artists have inter-disciplinary practices that involve multiple media, so expect mistakes.

Forrest Bess, The Painter’s Table, 1935, oil on board, 12 x 13.5 inches.
 Forrest Bess, title and date unknown.

Nicole Eisenma, Winter Solstice 2012 Dinner Party, 2009, oil on canvas, 56 x 44 inches
 Andrew Masullo, 5027, 2008-09; oil on canvas; 20 x 24 inches.

Forrest Bess (Bess died in 1977, but artist Robert Gober, the guy who curated the Whitney’s Charles Burchfield show last year, selected paintings for the Biennial)
Nicole Eisenman
Andrew Masullo

Painting/Installation/Other media mash-ups:
Kai Althoff
Richard Hawkins
Jutta Koether
Nick Mauss
Elaine Reichek

Vincent Fecteau
Oscar Tuazon

Cameron Crawford
Mike Kelley
John Knight
Sam Lewitt
Michael E. Smith

Thom Andersen
Charles Atlas
Nathaniel Dorsky 
Kevin Jerome Everson
Andrea Fraser
Vincent Gallo
K8 Hardy
Werner Herzog
Jerome Hiler
Matt Hoyt
George Kutchar
Laida Lertxundi
Laura Poitras
Matt Porterfield
Luther Price
Lucy Raven
Kelly Reichardt
Michael Robinson
Frederick Wiseman

Lutz Bacher
Moyra Davey
Liz Deschenes
LaToya Ruby Frazier

Michael Clark
Dennis Cooper and Gis�le Vienne,
Dawn Kasper
Richard Maxwell
Sarah Michelson
Alicia Hall Moran and Jason Moran
The Red Krayola

Too hard to categorize:
John Kelsey
Kate Levant
Joanna Malinowska
Georgia Sagri
Tom Thayer 
Wu Tsang

Who is responsible for choosing these artists and why is there so little painting? Once you read a little about the exhibitions that 2012 curators Elisabeth Sussman and Jay Sanders have organized elsewhere, it’s clear why there is a dearth of painting in the upcoming Biennial: Neither curator has spent much time over the course of their careers organizing painting exhibitions. The lack of painting isn’t a reflection on contemporary painting per se, but rather an indication that the curators simply aren’t interested in it.

Here’s the info about Sussman and Sanders, lifted from the Whitney’s PR materials:

Elisabeth Sussman is Curator and Sondra Gilman Curator of Photography at
the Whitney Museum of American Art. She curated Paul Thek: Diver, A Retrospective,
co-curated with Lynn Zelevansky, co-curated (with Thomas Weski) William Eggleston: Democratic Camera, Photographs and Video, 1961-2008, Gordon Matta-Clark: �You Are the Measure.” She has organized many other Whitney exhibitions including Remote Viewing: Invented Worlds in Recent Painting and Drawing (2005); Mike Kelley: Catholic Tastes (1991); Nan Goldin: I�ll Be Your Mirror (1996), with David Armstrong; Keith Haring (1997); and the Museum�s 1993 Biennial Exhibition.

co-curated two exhibitions on the work of Eva Hesse, one of Hesse�s
drawings with The Drawing Center, and another of her sculpture with The
Jewish Museum, both in New York. For SFMOMA, Sussman also organized, with Sandra Phillips, a retrospective of the work of Diane Arbus, Diane Arbus: Revelation.
She is the author of many publications,
including Lisette Model (Phaidon, 2001) and has contributed essays on Robert Gober for the Schaulager and on Lee Bontecou.

2005 until recently, Jay Sanders was a Gallery Director at
Greene Naftali in New York, where he organized major monographic
exhibitions of the artist/filmmakers Tony Conrad and Paul Sharits, along
with shows by Allen Ruppersberg, Guy de Cointet, and others. Sanders�s recent projects as a curator include
organizing a ten-day continuous screening installation, ITWAN, as part of the exhibition Film Programme at IPS International Project Space, Birmingham (UK), presented in November 2010.  In 2007 he organized an artist film and video
program/installation, conceived and co-curated with Paul Chan, entitled Change our fates, hobble the plague, start with time,
at the Lyon Biennale. Sanders has programmed performance, music, and
film exhibitions at such venues as the former Whitney branch at Altria,
Issue Project Room, Anthology Film Archives, Sculpture Center, EAI,
The Stone, Tonic, and for Performa. He is a member of the collaborative
performance group Grand Openings, and has staged large-scale events at
Anthology Film Archives for Performa 05 (New York), the Echigo-Tsumari
Art Triennial (Japan), MUMOK (Vienna), and the Bumbershoot Festival (Seattle). He has produced and edited a DVD
on the work of theater artist Richard Foreman, published a book of Jack
Smith�s drawings, and co-edited, with poet Charles Bernstein, the
seminal catalogue Poetry Plastique to accompany their 2001
exhibition by the same name at Marianne Boesky Gallery, where Sanders
was a Gallery Director from 2000 to 2005. Sanders has written
extensively for ArtforumParkettTexte zur Kunst, BOMB, and other publications.

UPDATE(March 2, 2012): Roberta Smith gushes over the 2012 Whitney Biennial in the NYTimes but agrees there aren’t enough objects in the show. “In liking this show a lot I’m not saying that it is perfect, or that I
like all of it. It could use a higher percentage of strong art objects
and in this regard suffers from a lack of hard, open-eyed looking. It
is, after all, a Whitney Biennial. It has irritating moments of
preciousness and blank spots where it dwindles off into
inconsequentiality. But at this juncture such faults seem preferable to
overweening, overproduced machismo. And often what appears slight will
gain strength if you return and look again, more closely.” 

Whitney Biennial 2012,” The Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY. March 1-May 27, 2012.

Related posts:
Curator Herb Tam envisions a different Whitney Biennial.
An Eye For Art: “For professional curators, selecting specific paintings
for an exhibition is a daunting prospect, far too revealing a
demonstration of their lack of what we in the trade call ‘an eye.’ They
prefer to exhibit videos…”
2010 Whitney Biennial scorecard for painters
Brown Team Takes Two at The Whitney Biennial


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  1. I see so much painting in galleries, though — is that more because paintings are easier to sell, or am I just looking at the wrong channels in contemporary fine art?

    I saw a lot of good painting between the last biennial and this one. It's a shame that more of it didn't get in.

  2. Don't forget that Elisabeth Sussman also curated two solo museum exhibits of Florine Stettheimer's paintings.

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