Sculpture, painting, installations, and photography—as well as dance, theater, music, and film—will fill the galleries of the Whitney Museum of American Art in the latest edition of the Whitney Biennial. With a roster of artists at all points in their careers the Biennial provides a look at the current state of contemporary art in America. This is the seventy-sixth in the ongoing series of Biennials and Annuals presented by the Whitney since 1932, two years after the Museum was founded.
The Biennial will open on March 1 despite the Whitney’s recent action to return money provided by two major sponsors of the Biennial—Sotheby’s and Deutsche Bank—whose recent corporate conduct has made it impossible for the Museum to maintain a partnership with them.
ABOUT OUR SPONSORS
The Whitney will find a way to open the 2012 Biennial in spite of the Museum’s difficult decision to break with the two major corporate sponsors of the Biennial. Regretfully, the Whitney entered into a sponsor agreement with Sotheby’s before the auction house locked out forty-three of its unionized art handlers once their contract expired in July 2011. Last year saw record-breaking sales with profits over $100 million for Sotheby’s; the pay of the CEO alone doubled to $6 million. Yet Sotheby’s has sought to break organized labor by starving their workers into submission—locked out of their jobs and without wages since August, these workers and their families lost their health care benefits at the end of 2011.
The Whitney recognizes that the financial speculation on art taking place in secondary sales of works benefits wealthy investors far more than the artists who created the works, let alone the workers who craft, move, install, maintain, or guard them. The Museum understands the importance of providing working people—including artists who must work second jobs to support their careers—with the livable wages and healthcare for which the Sotheby’s art handlers are fighting. Sotheby’s actions are a direct attack on the Museum’s mission to support and collect the work of living artists. For these reasons, the Whitney cannot allow Sotheby’s to tarnish the image of the Biennial any longer.
The Whitney also announces its break with major sponsor Deutsche Bank, which is facing numerous lawsuits and accusations of fraud from both investors and the U.S. government. Deutsche Bank and its subsidiary Mortgage IT profited from selling and insuring mortgages, and are currently in litigation with the U.S. government over a $1 billion claim for fraudulently obtained federal mortgage insurance; because of their dealings in mortgage-based collateralized debt obligations, they have also been sued by the Federal Housing Finance Agency, and the Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association. The reckless and even fraudulent financial speculation by banks like Deutsche Bank has created enormous social costs in terms of lost jobs, savings, and homes. The Whitney does not want the bank’s sponsorship of the Biennial to distract from these serious matters or to reflect poorly on the Museum, and so must end the sponsorship agreement.
AN APOLOGY TO THE PARTICIPATING ARTISTS
The Whitney is proud to be able to redistribute resources from major corporate donors and super-wealthy individuals to deserving artists, especially within a political and economic system that concentrates wealth for a tiny minority while the majority grows poorer, suffers without healthcare, is forced from their homes, or goes without food. However, the Whitney also recognizes that some donors and sponsors may seek to use their partnership with the Museum to whitewash their image and to hide the social costs of unchecked capital accumulation behind a façade of charity. These sponsors seek to capitalize on the creativity, intelligence, and culture brought into the world by contemporary artists even as the sponsors make that world unlivable. The Whitney recognizes that many emerging artists cannot refuse to participate in a major museum show without endangering their careers, and so apologizes deeply to the participating artists for allowing them to be exploited by the former sponsors in this manner. The Museum hopes the participating artists will join us in denouncing the wrongs committed by our former sponsors and trusts the artists will use the resources provided to them to foster a more vibrant, livable, just, and sustainable world.
EXISTERS is a 21-minute long mini-album of brand-new songs by lucky dragons, produced in cooperation with artist / designer Jesse Hlebo of Swill Children. EXISTERS resist without intervening, subsist without consuming. They are everything about living except life, showing the effects of attention on a thing over time. EXISTERS harkens to all things slow, delicate, and sharp—music for drifters, onlookers, and aliens of the everyday. Following on 2011’s SHAPE TAPE, which reduced music to pure harmonics—no concern for beginning, end, or time passing—lucky dragons begin the process of re-inserting the organic textures, playfully intricate handmade rhythms and repetitions that characterized their earlier work, such as 2008’s Dream Island Laughing Language or 2006’s Widows. By largely replacing the acoustic instrumentation and field-recorded sources of those records with the crackling pulse of modular synthesizer and alien sharpness of spectral processing, EXISTERS is both the wall and the push against it, a direct impression, a tribute to the boundary and how the boundary can be crossed.