Whitneys Biennial Gives Young Artists a Second Chance at a Biennial


Celebrity comebacks indicate that there are second acts in American life—even third and fourth acts. And when reality television is the obstetrician for these rebirths of identity, the comeback effort can be as transparent as a stint in celebrity rehab—or, as is the case with singer Whitney Houston, several mortifying public displays of drug addiction followed by obligatory “crack is wack” denials and mea culpes. 

Presumably with this notion of fame lust and redemption in mind, artists Martha Mysko, MaryKate Maher, Elise Rasmussen, and Davida Nemeroff conceived of Whitney’s Biennial, a group show that opens tonight at c.r.e.a.m. projects in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. Founded by Jeff Rausch, whose day job is Contemporary Art Property Manager for the Phillips de Pury auction house, c.r.e.a.m. was originally conceived to be a one-off pop-up gallery for a show of work made by Rausch’s friend Chris Milk Hulburt, who was going through hard times. Rausch, who admits to reappropriating the gallery’s name from the Wu-Tang Clan (“I’m a sucker for hip hop, plus I thought it was fitting for the times we are living in”), has exhibited eight more shows since his first exhibition, yet none have possessed quite the star wattage—or hooky conceit—of Whitney’s Biennial

An invitation to participate in the “real” Whitney Biennial is what young, ambitious artists pray for—and incidentally, artists chosen for the 2010 Biennial are currently receiving the word that they’ve been selected as studio visits conclude. Being asked to produce work for Whitney’s Biennial may have been a bit less of an ego-defining moment for some artists, but it is also far less of a perilous art world ledge to fall from. The four artists who have organized the show planned it to act as a spiritual twin to Houston’s attempt at career resurrection, and invited 37 artists to create new art for the assemblage. These requests for work were made at the fictional behest of Houston, explains Martha Mysko, “The invitation email sent to all the artists was from sent from Whitney. It said, basically, ‘My new album is about a drop-make a new piece for this show.'”

And while the show may not be officially Whitney-sanctioned, it is not without street cred in the form of at least three artists, Roe Etheridge, Fia Backström and Kara Walker, whose work has previously appeared in that other Whitney Biennial. Not that the show’s focus is on careerism-quite the contrary, says Mysko: “We know a lot of really talented artists, and it just seems like everyone’s feeling very frustrated. We thought of doing something with a biennial format, and we thought of using Whitney as a symbol for all struggling artists.” Unlike the official Whitney Biennial, inclusion in Whitney’s Biennial isn’t a rocket to art stardom—it is unadulterated feel-good participation in a show based around an artist who, simply, wants to dance with somebody who loves her. Says Mysko, whose own piece in the show is a 16 foot see-saw that viewers may hop aboard, “We’re offering free limo rides on Friday night, with a Whitney Houston soundtrack playing. We just wanted to make art openings fun again.”

Whitney’s Biennial opens at c.r.e.a.m. projects, 70 Greenpoint Avenue, on Friday, August 28, 7–11pm. On Saturday at 8 PM, Castlemusic will performing live. The show will be on view, 12–6pm, through Sunday, August 30.