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Top Picks of 2017 Whitney Biennial, New York

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The 2017 Whitney Biennial, the seventy-eighth installment of the longest-running survey of American art, is open at the Whitney Museum in Manhattan (March 17-June 11, 2017). A huge variety of forms, from painting to video-game design representing a wide and diverse scene of contemporary art in the United States.


Installation view of Puppies Puppies, Liberty (Liberté), 2017, at the 2017 Whitney Biennial. Photo by Matthew Carasella
It’s impossible to write about everything and everyone here (there are sixty-three individuals and collectives on the view!), that’s why we decided to focus on the most noticeable painters at the exhibition. The selection is subjective of course. The whole Biennial catalog is available online at the Whitney Museum website.
photo by Lucas Celler

Henry Taylor

Henry Taylor (born 1958) combines 19−20 centuries classic refined painting techniques with a seemingly spontaneous and natural expressiveness. Some critics found that his works are a visual equivalent to blues music. Clean bright colors, sensual, vibrant, dynamic compositions, it seems that you definitely can hear these paintings.
And green, a lot of green everywhere. "I want to put green into everything," — Taylor told in an interview.
"I'm the youngest of eight kids. My Dad is from east Texas; his father got shot and killed when he was ten. I had two brothers who went to Nam. One got shot on his birthday and died seven years later. One became a tunnel rat in Tennessee. I’ve seen my Dad fight the police. That was the first time I’d ever seen that. My brother jumped through a window to save him. One brother was a founder of the Panthers. I was trying to get into the political groups when I was younger, but they threw me out 'cause they thought I was a clown."

In 80's-90's the unfulfilled political activist worked in a mental hospital and studied painting. In 1995 he got his Bachelor’s of Fine Art at the California Institute of the Arts. He gained the success in 2000's. But can you stop see what you see and feel what you feel?
Based on the video Diamond Reynolds captured moments after her fiancé, Philando Castile, had been fatally shot by a police officer in July 2016 in Falcon Heights, Minnesota— an incident that sparked protests nationwide.

"Don't think that I don’t care—I'm just not protesting in the street about it," -Taylor speaks. He turns a screenshot from the video of Philando Castile killing in 2016 into an almost mythological scene where evil, death, violence, pain, suffering act, not characters. You can forget a news report, but you’ll never forget this painting. Of course, Taylor put green into it.

Jo Baer (born 1929)

One of the most known artists at the exhibition, successful painter and art theorist, Jo Baer was educated as a biologist, and changed her career dramatically in 50's:

"In 1952 on my way home from an interview at Yale for my Ph.D., I saw a little Matisse drawing in a window; I burst into tears and I never went back to school. It became a question of what to do, and finding the courage to become an artist."

For a long time, she worked in New York and became a recognizable minimalistic painter in 70's. But then she changed everything again. Baer moved to Europe and developed a new painting style that she once termed "radical figuration."
She mixes images, symbols, words, citations (have you noticed Picasso?) in non-narrative monumental paintings. Some compositions remind Kandinsky. But they are not abstract, they’re full of meanings that should be decrypted and understood. Even the emptiness in her paintings isn’t an abstraction, it feels real.
In contrast to Taylor’s works that "sounds" Baer’s paintings stay quiet, and more than this, they seemingly produce the silence. The series "In the Land of the Giants", begun in 2009, presented at the Biennial give us a great example of her later style and mature artistry.

Celeste Dupuy-Spencer (Born 1979)

"This is not what I expected my life to be but the facts of my life are awesome. The Biennial curators called me on the phone to tell me, and I was trying to be really cool about it. I’m all like, ‘Thank you very much,' but then I was basically screaming, ‘Oh my god!'", — told Celeste in an interview.

This time we can see the success in a real time. The first solo exhibition of Celeste Dupuy-Spencer took place just a year ago in Los Angeles.
It’s hard to describe the style of Dupuy-Spencer's paintings and drawings. Raw? Сartoonish? She uses so many different techniques. Em Rooney wrote in the press release of her personal show:

"The paintings pay little mind to a "style" of painting, though Celeste’s intimacy and comfort with paint, as well as the painted subject, is obvious. The paintings for this show remind me of Elaine De Kooning’s portraits of JFK — they’re painted with a love so big and absurd, the act of painting becomes an irony in and of itself."
Celeste Dupuy-Spencer. St. Tammany Parish, 2016. Oil on Canvas


Let’s think Celeste just tells stories about the times in which we live. Her characters depicted with veracity, directness, and sympathy. It’s impossible not to smile when you look at her paintings. It’s impossible not to smile when you look at her drawings. Just as planned.

Shara Hughes (Born 1981)

Graduated from Rhode Island School of Design Shara Hughes makes both paintings and sculptures. She made a long way developing her own style. The works that we can see at an exhibition are a product of her fantasy, improvisation, and the painterly process itself.

"I usually don’t have a plan at all. Each piece is completely from my head. Each mark is intuitive until the piece is resolved."
You can call Hughes’s works hallucinations or just abstract landscapes but it would be boring and actually not right to put any label to these bright stirring fantasies. Their spontaneity and directness, simplicity and expressiveness just exist and speak by themselves. No explanation is needed but the imagination is required.
" I need to be in front of the work to be completely in the moment of making. I like to have this on the fly feeling because I feel like it comes from the most honest part of being an artist to me."

Julien Nguyen (Born 1990)

Julien Nguyen’s paintings are intellectually saturated and fulfilled with citations and allusions to literally the whole legacy of 100 000 years history of arts. He plays with Greek mythology, Renaissance one-point perspective, and Japanese manga canon but his works by no means are postmodernist collage exercises. Nguyen’s paintings feel very personal; they have strong and deep sensual and emotional dimension. The artist not only thinks but feels this way. Not that simple, of course:
"..if ideology as "imaginary representation" operates on the level of the unconscious, these distortions are not expressions of my "view of the world" but are resultant from my emergence within it: reenacting the nanosecond in which a camera captures Hillary Clinton’s light-sucking eye to reveal a reptilian underneath the human membrane," — the artist writes.

As there are just two Julien Nguyen’s works at the Biennial exhibition (actually one work in two paintings) and they can’t give the full representation of his ideas, we recommend this link to see more of his works. http://www.contemporaryartdaily.com/2016/10/julien-nguyen-at-freedman-fitzpatrick/
The artist is young but he definitely worth to be followed by art dealers, collectors and just enthusiasts of a good painting.
The exhibition contains also around 20 video and 16 mm film projections, a lot of art-object s and all kinds of mixed technique installations. It’s impossible not to mention the shocking naturalistic virtual reality 3D video by Jordan Wolfson that explores our perception of the violence. And ambitious Samara Golden’s work named "The Meat Grinder’s Iron Clothes" that masterfully incorporates the museum window with a view of real New York into a huge sophisticated installation with mirrors and miniature setting of a skyscraper interiors. This is a great opportunity to see America in all its complexity at one place. The same is totally related to the whole Biennial exposition.
Ajay Kurian
Childermass, 2017 (detail)
Plaster, sulfur, goldstone, steel, epoxy resin, polyurethane resin, custom clothing, screenprinted T-shirt, sneakers, spray paint, LEDS and duct tape.
Sources:

http://whitney.org/Exhibitions/2017Biennial
https://www.juxtapoz.com/news/magazine/henry-taylor-where-the-streets-have-a-name/
http://bombmagazine.org/article/1888/jo-baer
https://miergallery.com/celeste-dupuy-spencer-and-a-wheel-on-the-track/
http://www.culturedmag.com/celeste-dupuy-spencer/
http://bombmagazine.org/article/7158/
http://www.maakemagazine.com/shara-hughes-1/
http://www.flashartonline.com/2016/09/depths-plumbed-julien-nguyen/
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