Sue de Beer Hans und Grete, Two channel video installation, 2002
David Hockney's Still Alive?: The 2004 Whitney Biennial Reviewed
By Jade D'Espoir

Excuse me, but did I just hear critics and masses alike deem the 2004 Whitney Biennial as "good"? "Aesthetically pleasing"? "A pleasure to visit"? "Not assertive or slap in your face political"? Can it be true that both Roberta Smith and Peter Schjeldahl gave it positive reviews? Just what the hell is going on in the art world today? After hearing all of these atypical remarks from art critics to average Joes, I immediately headed north on the 6 to take it in for myself. The verdict? The rumors are true, save for sitting through a delightfully disturbing sex scene in Sue de Beer's film Hans und Grete next to some children, who starred at the screen with mouth's agape and lives forever changed. The film and the coming of age moment of those two kids were the most riveting moments I experienced at the Whitney.

Call me crazy, but I miss the slap-in-your face ugliness and aggressiveness of the earlier biennials. It was fun to go through the show and guess what kind of drugs or psychotherapy the artist could be on. There was a time when artists weren't afraid to make far out statements, verging on the offensive or decidedly raunchy. Sexuality, nationality, personal politics were there whether you wanted them to be or not. It was funny and absurd at the same time. And when people personalize such offensiveness in art they get passionate about how much they hate it or why it is or isn't art. It causes dialogue and people remember it. How many people are going to remember the 2004 biennial? I'm guessing only a handful more than those who remember the 2002 biennial, which isn't saying much. The reviews have been positive across the board and that smells a bit fishy to me.

God, if I have to read about Elizabeth Peyton's "jewel like canvas" one more time, I'm going to puke. Jeremy Blake's flat screen manipulations, Julie Mehretu's scatological canvases (or as I call them, Matthew Ritchie in drag), a frosty, sweeping painting by Laura Owens, oh yeah, they're all here. Can't anyone create a group show without these people? Let's try something new here folks. I almost started to wonder where Cecily Brown was… oh wait, on the 3rd floor.

Maybe it's just me who's missing the point. Could it simply be that artists and curators only see the museum as a refuge; art as a safe, stabilizing haven to turn to during such tumultuous times? Is art truly reaching modernist alienation? I am by no mean proposing that all art be politicizing or controversial. Lord knows we don't need another Document XI. I just think I'm riled up because here we are living in one of the most politically fucked up realities this country has seen in a while and instead of touching on controversy or taking risks, we're given this glossy cupcake of an exhibition.



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