Not to Eat But to Think: The 2022 Whitney Biennial


Barker’s piece gains a more force in its use of translucent plastic, which grants it a sort of spectral high quality. And it added benefits from the ghostly footprint of Liza Lou’s beaded “Kitchen” (1991-6), which was not too long ago demonstrated at the Whitney as element of Generating Recognizing—and which is extensively seen as arguing for the dignity of domestic (and presumably feminine) labor. Barker’s piece calls attention, by contrast, to indignity: a feeling produced manifest in a close by stack of additional than 7,000 sheets of paper comprising six months’ of health-related documents and expenditures associated to Barker’s hospitalization adhering to a spinal wire injuries. The tidy stack of paper is a wasteful index that speaks damningly of the numbing bureaucracy and curt inhumanity of our health care program.

But can rigid administrative logic possibly be deconstructed, or reimagined? Rayyane Tabet’s intelligent “100 Civics Issues,” an set up scattered in the course of the Whitney, suggests that it can be. Born in Beirut and at present an applicant for US citizenship, Tabet was struck by the phrasings of some of the questions in the official review guide for the US naturalization exam. Some of them examine, the artist recognized, nearly like concrete poetry, even though other individuals contained an unintentionally open-ended aspect. Encountered in a stairwell, the dilemma What did the Emancipation Proclamation do? looks each rudely confrontational and wildly unanswerable.

The unexpected abruptness of the inquiries functions as a form of parody of the test—which depends on the fiction that there is a pat, proper response to every single query. But Tabet’s piece also gives a potent lens by way of which to think about the unfolding current. In the wake of the leaked Supreme Court docket decision about abortion legal rights, the dilemma What stops just one department of governing administration from turning out to be way too effective? acquires a poignant aspect. And, at last, the way in which the issues pop up during the Whitney conveys a provocative indifference to common geographies. If boundaries are basically common, and seemingly basic questions about nationwide identification transform out to be gnomic, what may possibly it really signify to be American?

Boiling a present of this scale down to four functions is a automatically reductive workout, and it ignores several other will work of advantage. I’m considering, for occasion, of Danielle Dean’s watercolors featuring landscapes extrapolated from previous Ford adverts, with the cars and trucks excised and occasional references to Amazon inserted: the resulting scenes are a beguiling mashup of Thomas Hart Benton, extraction capitalism, and professional imagery. Jane Dickson’s affected person paintings of signage from Times Square in a seedier, 1980s incarnation are properly well worth a search in their gratifying mix of text, impression, and memory. And Rose Salane’s show of hundreds of objects employed to pay back MTA bus fares—from a penny flattened at the Burj Khalifa to casino tokens—is a energetic proof of the sheer ingenuity of town-dwellers, and a concrete visualization of an improvised world-wide circulatory method.

This is an emphatically various clearly show, with entries that span a large array of media and tonal registers. But if you are seeking for a kind of thesis or revealing punctum, I’m not confident you can do any much better than a remark by the sculptor Charles Ray, in a wall text accompanying his a few sculptures. “I go to Burger King every day,” claims Ray, “not to eat but to consider.”

It’s a cryptic, willfully contrarian remark. But it is also a amazingly crisp summation of the tips powering this exhibit. In its informal artwork historic allusiveness (Warhol: “I applied to have the same lunch each individual day”), its amazing privileging of the cerebral in excess of the bodily, and its creative repurposing of a bureaucratic structure, it is in tune with lots of of the other functions in the Biennial. And then, last but not least, there is the reality that even getting into a Burger King was flatly impossible for considerably of 2020 and 2021. Ray consequently summarizes a sort of COVID-induced vertigo that powers this clearly show. Even as it is unnerving to know that the mere risk of sitting down in a speedy-food restaurant may be a lead to for celebration, it is even far more jarring to comprehend that performing so frequently might yield visions of a planet preferable to the just one that we know.



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