Political Art in the Age of Technology: The Whitney Biennial

On a cold, rainy Sunday, eager museum-goers crowded the entrance to the Whitney Museum of American Art to witness a biennial event showcasing 63 artists’ work.

The exhibition, which runs from March 17 through June 11, is comprised of artwork ranging from painting, sculpture, and instillation to video and virtual reality content. The 2017 Whitney Biennial is the first to be held in the Whitney’s Meatpacking district building.

To elaborate on this year’s Whitney Biennial, Jessica Mathews ('18), a volunteer at the Whitney, described the theme of the exhibition as “challenging.”

“That’s what the Biennial is always supposed to be,” Mathews said. “Coming up with new ideas, exploring new ideas and starting new conversations.”

The Whitney Biennial offers an insightful and introspective look at culture and society in 2017 through its various themed collections. Instillations commenting on the social-media-obsession and paintings illuminate issues of censorship scattered throughout the exhibition.

Controversial topics like police brutality and student debt are also tackled in art pieces, such as the series of works on debt by Occupy Museums and THE TIMES THAY AIN’T CHANGING, FAST ENOUGH! piece by Henry Taylor on the fifth and six floors respectively.

Mathews addressed the pseudo-political vibe of the exhibition. “With the political climate and how things have been going with the new civil rights conversation and with everything heating up with that again, I think that the Biennial is really challenging a lot of those ideas,” Matthews said. “[It’s] coming at it from different angles.”

Museum-goers can explore two levels of thought-provoking, stimulating, and entertaining art. For extra insight and to make the most of the biennial experience, participate in one of the several free guided tours.

Explore and interact with the art with pieces like Occupy Museum’s debt piece on the fifth floor, which allows the viewer to fill out questionnaires pertaining to their own financial situation, or Porpentine Charity Heartscape’s interactive game, which is a video-game-like simulation that allows participants to choose different options of action on their screen and projects it onto a larger screen behind them.

Additionally, for the first time ever, the Whitney Biennial includes a virtual reality piece by Jordan Wolfson. The simulation, which depicts a violent and disturbing scene, signals the pioneering of virtual reality into the contemporary art world.

“Even though it is art, it’s in a different form,” Mathews said, “But you don’t really think of it as contemporary art. So I think it was really a bold move.”

King’s students should take advantage of this biennial opportunity not only because of the importance of the work addressed in the exhibition in the current political climate, but because it offers students a way to interact with innovative technological art forms.

“I think that [King’s students] would be more interested in this [year’s Biennial] than most exhibitions ever at the Whitney because of how they integrate technology this year,” Mathews said.

Even students who aren’t artistically inclined shouldn’t pass up this opportunity. “I think no matter who you are you still can get something out of it,” Mathews said. “I think everyone can find one piece that speaks to them even if they don’t see anything else.”

Tickets to the Whitney Biennial are $18 for students.

CultureAnne Sraders