Vol 2 No 1 (2021)
Opera-Fanìa: On the Ostensive Conditions of Contemporary Art

Institutional Certainty and Curatorial Ambiguity: The Whitney Biennial

Jens Hoffmann



− Abstract

The rise of more critical and radical political debates has made museums intensely risk-averse such that self-regulation, self-censorship, and most importantly pure self-preservation have become the foundations of museum operations. Whereas the 1990s and early 2000s were broadly seen as a period of bold, critical, and unflinching curatorial undertakings, especially in the context of biennials, the last decade has witnessed clear shifts toward benign, almost anodyne programming for fear of being perceived as offensive or insensitive.

This essay considers the Whitney Biennial as a case study, tracing an arc from the lauded 1993 edition to the projected 2022 edition, which may be curated entirely by algorithm so as to please the broadest possible swath of the public. Stops along the way consider various controversies that have befallen the biennial despite its efforts otherwise: Donelle Woolford in 2014, Dana Schutz in 2017, and Warren B. Kanders in 2019.

− Keywords
Whitney Biennial, Whitney Museum of American Art, Algorithm, Curating, Donelle Woolford, Joe Scanlan, Dana Schutz, Warren B. Kanders