The Whitney Biennial: Young Art Cross-Stitched With Politics


Holland Cotter (The New York Times) reviews the 2019 Whitney Biennial (May to September), saying, “The look is personal, but when you peel it back, the message is subtly topical.” I was especially pleased to read his description of Daniel Lind-Ramos—an exceptionally talented artist hailing from Loíza, Puerto Rico—whose work, “María-María,” is shown above. Other artists with Caribbean connections participating in the exhibition and mentioned in the article are Eddie Arroyo and Simone Leigh. [Also, Tiona Nekkia McClodden, a devotee and priestess of Santería, presents a piece in honor of Shangó.] Here are excerpts from Cotter’s review:

Given the political tensions that have sent spasms through the nation over the past two years, you might have expected — hoped — that the 2019 Whitney Biennial would be one big, sharp Occupy-style yawp. It isn’t. Politics are present, but with a few notable exceptions, murmured, coded, stitched into the weave of fastidiously form-conscious, labor-intensive work.

As a result, the exhibition, organized by two young Whitney curators, Rujeko Hockley and Jane Panetta, gives the initial impression of being a well-groomed group show rather than a statement of resistance. Yet once you start looking closely, the impression changes. Artist by artist, piece by piece, there’s a lot of quiet agitation in the air.

[. . .] The 75 participants include artists hailing from Canada and Puerto Rico and non-coastal points in between, as well as several born in Africa and Asia and at least a few United States citizens living abroad. The ethnic and gender mix is balanced to a degree unimaginable even a decade ago. And it’s a young show: three quarters of the artists are under 40, with 20 of them under 33. So that’s all good.

[. . .] This is not to say that other work doesn’t deal with in-the-now issues. Eddie Arroyo’s small paintings of a shop in the Little Haiti section of his hometown, Miami, over the course of four years is both a homage to, and a lament for, a place and way of life being erased by gentrification.

[. . .] For a handful of artists, to reclaim history is to reassert the power of spirituality. And the acknowledgment of this element, generally shunned by the market-centered contemporary art world, may be the exhibition’s one truly radical move. In a sculpture titled “Maria-Maria,” the Afro-Puerto Rican artist Daniel Lind-Ramos creates, from wood, beads, coconuts and a blue FEMA tarp, a figure that is both the Virgin Mary and personification of the hurricane that devastated the island in 2017. Enshrined in a sixth floor Whitney window, the piece looks presidingly majestic.

And in a mixed-media installation called “I prayed to the wrong god for you,” the Philadelphia-based artist Tiona Nekkia McClodden records her own experience as a devotee and priestess of the Afro-Cuban religion Santeria, a spiritual practice that led to her carving, in honor of the god Shango, a set of symbolic sculptural tools which she carried on pilgrimage from the United States to Cuba and Nigeria.

If the Biennial can be said to favor one medium, it’s sculpture, which is enjoying robust health on the evidence of the selection here, ranging from Robert Bittenbender’s trash-and-treasure-infested wire snarls, to Ragen Moss’s polyethylene biomorphs, to attenuated figures, made in Nairobi and New York, by Wangechi Mutu, and ground-hugging ones by the 2018 Hugo Boss Prize winner Simone Leigh. [. . .]

[Daniel Lind-Ramos’s “Maria-Maria” (2019) creates, from wood, beads, coconuts and a blue FEMA tarp, a figure that is both the Virgin Mary and the personification of the hurricane that devastated the island in 2017. Credit: Vincent Tullo for The New York Times.]

For full review, see

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