March 28, 2007

Mythologies & Difference

Administrator’s note: Liana Cohen-Matteini posts on the controversial 1993 Whitney Biennial and continues our line of inquiry concerning mythologies and identity..

The Mythology of Difference: Vulgar Identity Politics at the Whitney Biennial by Charles A. Wright, Jr. discusses the major issue of “whiteness” and also its relationship to American culture and identity. The way in which artists represent their racial culture, versus the way the museum represents the same culture through curatorial censorship is a major discussion. How do artists represent their work? Can I only speak for “white women” in my work because that is what I am? How do the museums as an institution and the curators as individuals reflect or suppress certain artists and artworks? These issues of diversity have been harshly critiqued in the [‘93] Whitney Biennial.

The way in which one defines the concept of these cultures is key, because it is the backbone of how one approaches the issue of racial identity in art. Race, gender and sexual preference are traits that must be incorporated into art (either consciously or subconsciously). The concept of “whiteness” is a controversial subject, making the way in which the museum addresses it even more sensitive. How is it even possible to come anywhere close to evaluating the issue in its full complexity? The museum must adjust the issue to its convenience, leaving much room for politics regarding the issue.

Reading for 4 April: Chapter 20: Authenticity, Reflexivity, and Spectacle: or, the Rise of New Asia is not the End of the World by Lee Weng Choy.


Anonymous said...

This is Becky: Another issue that's brought up in the essay is the criticism that the biennial, or the Whitney in general, dosn't take an actual position on what "American art" is, or about diversity.
I agree that it's nearly impossible to tackle an entire issue like "whiteness" in a work, or even in a show. And because America is so relatively young and diverse (-- diversity is completely inherent in "americaness" , due to its history) I don't really think that there is a way to explain American art through curation. And I don't know if it's necessary for the biennial to take a stance on something as broad as diversity, or if it's necessay for an institution to take a concious stance on anything in a show. I think as long as there is a cohesion, in whatever way that's accomplished, a general tone will be formed by nature of having all the works juxtposed in thoughtful manner. I think this is more important and thought provoking than sticking to a specific stance.

Antea Roberts said...

I think you should be able to speak for women in general, because even though you might not live your life as any other nationality but your own, you know what it is like to be female; for the most part, we are all the same. Speaking on gender relations and not just racial relations is a possiblity with out having to pick a specific ethnicity.

patrickjdonovan said...

Wright's essay is interesting because it highlights the prominent role of curators in contemporary art, a role that almost eclipses that of the artists in the exhibition. Thus, it is the Whitney curators' decision to highlight race issues that becomes important and controversial, with the artists and their works taking a subordinate place.