Art for Politics: Reflections on the Whitney Biennial

By Kidd, Dustin | Afterimage, September-December 2006 | Go to article overview

Art for Politics: Reflections on the Whitney Biennial


Kidd, Dustin, Afterimage


The title of this essay is of course a play on the title of the Whitney Museum of American Art Biennial for 2006--"Day for Night," which ran March 2-May 28. These phrases--this for that--suggest to us that two seemingly contrasted, even contradictory, ideas have become difficult to tell apart. As Adam D. Weinberg, the director of the Whitney, states in the Biennial catalog, "Today's artistic situation is highly complex, contradictory, and confusing. It is an environment few can make sense of." (1) Much of this confusion is regrettable perhaps, but confusion itself is not something to avoid. Yes, it is admittedly dangerous, but it is also a source of tremendous creativity. We live in confusing times and we find ourselves forging complex maps across this exciting and terrifying terrain. The artists in the Biennial are helping us to imagine these maps.

To be frank, much of the challenging terrain before us is explicitly political terrain. We live in a time of war. We live in a time of political divisiveness. We live in a time when the struggles for power at home--over issues of race, of corporate power, of the environment, of faith matters, of gender, and of so much more mirror similar struggles that span the globe.

Enter the curators and artists of the Whitney Biennial. Art is made in the world and of the world, not in some distant isolated space of quiet reflection. If these are confusing times, then the works of the Biennial are perplexing as well. If we face rocky terrain, then these works give us a disconcerting map that is hard to read, and on which the roads are hard to find. If our troubles are in part political, then so too are the works of "Day for Night."

In response to the political dimensions of the current Biennial, I want to raise five questions that we need to consider as we try to make sense of the art of our time. First, can art ever be political? On one level, the answer to the question is a resounding yes, simply because we have so much political art. But what I really mean is: are we willing to allow art to be political? Will we tolerate political art coming into our lives, our ways of thinking, our museums? Politics always forces us to think about power--a tough issue to be sure. We rarely see or acknowledge all the ways that we benefit from the existing power structure of the world. But political art demands that we think differently about the world of power. It demands that we acknowledge our privileges and calculate how much we are willing to sacrifice to give more freedoms and privileges to more of our neighbors. So if we allow art to be political, we will also have to allow our world to change, perhaps quite drastically.

Second, is art ever not political? This question turns the last topsy-turvy. To put it another way, is all art political and is it always political? Given that power always brings us into issues of danger--the danger that the powerless face at the hands of the powerful--we could ask whether there is any art that is safe. Is there art that we need not be suspicious of? Art that has no agenda? Art that is not produced within the structures of power (whether near the top or the bottom of those structures)? Do we need to find a political slant to every work of art?

Third, does politics cheapen art? It is common, though by no means universal, to think of art as one of humanity's noblest pursuits. We tend to treat art as sacred, as evidenced by the enormous and beautiful temples we build as houses for the arts (such as the Whitney). When we introduce issues of power and policy into our artistic practices, is the sacredness lessened? What if an artist said that he created a work that was strictly political and that he really had no artistic goals in mind at all? Would we think less of the work? That is precisely what Richard Serra says of one of his works in the Biennial. In fact, he says so on the audio commentary. So again, does politics cheapen art? …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Art for Politics: Reflections on the Whitney Biennial
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.