Since its inception in 1932, the Whitney Biennial has set the tone for leading trends in contemporary art in America. One trend the museum is forecasting in the art world is the exclusion of Latino contributions. The roster for this year’s biennial features 55 artists (yes, 55), and not a single one of them is Latino, nor a representative of the Latin America or Latino diaspora. According to the Whitney Museum’s website, the exhibition laconically titled 2010 “embodies a cross section of contemporary art production rather than a specific theme.” In other words: There is no excuse. Instead of “Whitney,” the museum should just rename itself as “Whiteny.”
In 1987 the Guerrilla Girls, a group of anonymous gorilla-mask wearing women who comment and react to sexism and other social injustices in the art world, accused the Whitney of omitting the work of women and other minorities in their shows. It might seem petty to point fingers at demographics and demand to be included when you’re not invited. Yet, needless to say, the decision to include or omit certain artists from the exhibition carries a weight and institutional responsibility that shapes the way art is viewed, and most importantly, establishes who is creating art that is worth looking at. Artists who are included in the biennial go on to be regarded as significant producers by other, if not all major art institutions. Their art is consequently deemed “legitimate” by their peers.
Biennial alumni include iconic artists such as Andy Warhol, Jackson Pollock and Julian Schnabel. A 1997 alumnus, Mexican artist Gabriel Orozco, is currently the star of a major retrospective at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. Orozco’s work is conceptually based and driven by quotidian curiosity. Among his showcased pieces are an empty shoebox and plastic yogurt caps, not used as raw material for art, but presented as art itself. Try getting away with that at any museum when you’re not only a Latino, but also lacking the approval of the Whitney.
Art weigh-in time: If it doesn’t get a forum at the Whitney Biennial, where else should or is contemporary Latino being properly showcased? And who should be the one to validate our work?
The Biennial is on view from February 25 through May 30 at the Whitney Museum of American Art (945 Madison Avenue at 75th St, New York, NY 10021).