‘Voracious’ Whitney Biennial Embraces Race, Gender Via Artists Emerging And ‘Hiding In Plain Sight’

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Diane Simpson, Lambrequin and Peplum, 2017

Whitney Museum of American Art

Whitney Museum of American Art

An elegant installation of enamel on fiberboard and wood, lustrous ceiling tin, and steel, popping with pale yellow, graces a wall of a gallery on the first floor devoted to Diane Simpson at the Whitney Biennial 2019.

Simpson outlined Valance and Peplum (2017) in graphite and colored pencil on vellum graph paper before beginning work. Born in 1935, Simpson is the oldest artist featured in this year’s Biennial, but her work is innovative and commands multiple views in its own designated space, a momentous tribute to an artist celebrated for decades under the radar.

Diane Simpson, Valance and Peplum (2017)  Photo Credit: Natasha Gural

Natasha Gural

Fascinated by techniques of garment construction and the history of design, Simpson’s sculptures pay homage to a diverse array of inspirations such as Samurai armor, Amish bonnets, and Art Deco architecture, to emerge as abstract arrangements of interlocking planes.

Since the 1970s, she has begun her process with drawings on graph paper using axonometric projection, borrowing from architecture and engineering, as well as Chinese and Japanese art. Her drawings evolve into three dimensions when she joins together support material and embellishes the sculptures into decorative patterning, often in pencil or by collaging fabric onto the work.

In 2014, Simpson started dabbling in her series of Peplum sculptures, referencing a woman’s adorned waistline. “The structure of clothing forms has continuously informed my work, serving as a vehicle for exploring their functional and sociological roles and the influence of the design and architecture of various cultures and periods in history,” Simpson said, of her work’s relationship to fashion and architecture.

“Diane is an artist I was only vaguely aware of. It shows you that great artists are often hiding in plain sight. Here was someone in a major art community creating art at a high levels. That is the spirit of the Whitney Biennial, discovering artists who are new, along with those have been there all along,” Adam D. Weinberg, the Alice Pratt Brown Director of the Whitney since 2003, said in an interview after delivering opening comments to the overflow press crowd.

The Whitney Museum of American Art’s 87th Biennial spans three floors and is a requisite for anyone who wants to explore the vast talent of 75 artists who push the boundaries of gender, race, and equity, wrestling with ideas and topics that are indispensable in today’s social dialogue. It opens to the public tomorrow (May 17) and runs through Sept. 22.

This is the art that defines our present, often through visceral and stark imagery, meticulous movement, and stunning moving image, and outlines a path for our future. It’s our mission as socially conscious creatures to look to such art to evolve and put us, as a society, back on a track that celebrates humanity and the creative existence. Without recognition of such artists, we’re trapped in an era that shuts its eyes, ears, and senses to the urgency of the collective human condition.

Curators Jane Panetta and Rujeko Hockley visited artists for a year seeking the most significant and relevant work to feature in this year’s Biennial. The selected artists and collectives working in painting, sculpture, installation, film and video, photography, performance, and sound, capture this moment in art history. Introduced by the museum’s founder Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney in 1932, the Biennial is the nation’s longest-running exhibition to highlight and curate the most recent, cutting-edge developments in American art, often (and sometimes, intentionally) ruffling social and political feathers.

Artists include: Eddie Arroyo; Korakrit Arunanondchai; Olga Balema; Morgan Bassichis; Blitz Bazawule; Alexandra Bell; Brian Belott; Meriem Bennani; Robert Bittenbender; Lucas Blalock; Garrett Bradley; Milano Chow; Colectivo Los Ingrávidos; Thirza Cuthand; John Edmonds; Nicole Eisenman; Janiva Ellis; Kota Ezawa; Brendan Fernandes; FIERCE and Paper Tiger Television; Marcus Fischer; Forensic Architecture; Ellie Ga; Nicholas Galanin; Sofía Gallisá Muriente; Jeffrey Gibson; Todd Gray; Sam Green; Barbara Hammer; Ilana Harris-Babou; Matthew Angelo Harrison; Curran Hatleberg; Madeline Hollander; Iman Issa; Tomashi Jackson; Steffani Jemison; Adam Khalil; Zack Khalil; Jackson Polys; Christine Sun Kim; Josh Kline; Autumn Knight; Carolyn Lazard; Maia Ruth Lee; Simone Leigh; Daniel Lind-Ramos; James Luna; Eric N. Mack; Calvin Marcus; Tiona Nekkia McClodden; Troy Michie; Joe Minter; Keegan Monaghan; Caroline Monnet; Darius; Clark Monroe; Ragen Moss; Sahra Motalebi; Marlon Mullen; Jeanette Mundt; Wangechi Mutu; Las Nietas de Nonó (Lydela Nonó and Michel Nonó); Jenn Nkiru; Laura Ortman; Jennifer Packer; nibia pastrana Santiago; Elle Pérez; Pat Phillips; Gala Porras-Kim; Walter Price; Carissa Rodriguez; Paul Mpagi Sepuya; Heji Shin; Martine Syms; Kyle Thurman; Mariana Valencia; and Agustina Woodgate.

Buy your tickets in advance, as many days will sell out quickly. Curious visitors should allocate plenty of time to view exceptional live performances and provocative video and film installations, and peek outside via the higher floors. Known to locals as The Whitney, the museum located in the heart of Manhattan’s Meatpacking District at 99 Gansevoort St. To complete your visit, consider booking a table at Untitled (now a non-tipping restaurant, with hospitality and gratuity included), boasting delightful views from floor-to-ceiling windows, an extended bar with fine wines and craft cocktails, and clever, seasonal American fare.

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