This year, the Whitney Biennial features more female artists than male. Some are calling it the "women's show" - but is it?
Francesco Bonami, the chief curator of the exhibition, tells T Magazine that he doesn't see the 75th biennial as a "women's biennial" at all. "That's crazy. To be the women's biennial, 55 of the artists would have to be female." Bonami says he did not intend to tip the balance in favor of female artists - it just happened.
Interestingly, praise for the show, titled simply "2010," has centered around the lack of overt feminism. T Magazine says the tone is "'sober and intimate.' Not feminine." And maybe this is a good thing:
If anything, "2010" suggests that the art of the moment has achieved gender equality, even if the market for it has not. But inequality is not the issue here. Whereas the wisecracking feminist protest group the Guerrilla Girls once listed "working without the pressures of success" and "having the opportunity to choose between career and motherhood" among the perks for women artists, most of those in the biennial seem blasé about their place in the social order and entitled to the occasional appearance in a fashion spread, where the glamour quotient is highest.
It is also historic: For the first time, there are more women included than men. How thrilling and important this is shouldn't be overlooked or treated cynically, because this biennial isn't about women's art, feminism, or affirmative action. Nor is it about painting, although there's more nonphotographic, handmade two-dimensional work here than I recall seeing for decades. Instead, it provides glimpses of American strangeness, of pluralistic grassroots experimentalism. It is rich in surprises and new names, doesn't follow too many trends, and deals with the self and aesthetics in fresh ways.
However, that doesn't mean it is devoid of themes of gender and sex. Aurel Schmidt's towering minotaur (pictured) is a monster drawn of cigarettes, condoms, beer cans, and banana peels. "It's really an insane portrait of a man, but it's interesting to explore what is masculine and make it look sexual and positive," she explains. "I don't want anyone to accuse me of being a man hater, which I'm not. This is also about the masculine side of me."
Although it could be annoying to hear a show praised for being "not feminine," in this case it feels almost alright. The biennial may feature a record number of female artists, but that does not change the quality or tone of the work. The number of women showing their work is at once both historic and incidental. It is not about "women's work" (or "girl power," as T Magazine obnoxiously captions their accompanying photograph) just the creation and dissemination of art.