Every two years the Whitney Museum of Art has its Biennial, an unbiased selection of the best
contemporary established and emerging American artists. The works for the 2014 Biennial were
chosen by Stuart Comer, Michelle Grabner and Anthony Elms. Since the staff of the Whitney
writes a tag for each piece of art including the artist’s hometown and the city in which he works,
the Biennial has a geographical element: pieces made in New York or Chicago and as far west
as Los Angeles may slightly bring out something from the regional style.
While the celebrities who show at the Whitney sell paintings for millions, others must not be
earning the salaries of rock stars. At least some of the works by the artists described in this
article can be purchased inexpensively online. A CD of the artist and composer Charlemagne
Palestine costs $14.15. Signed prints by Elijah Burgher can be purchased at the online magazine
Gay House for $32. In 2009, a drawing by Karl Haendel sold at auction for $2,048. So while
some of the artists at that level are getting phenomenally rich, only the best known are earning
About 10 graphite pencil drawings on paper make up Haendel’s Theme Time which covers a
large wall on the fourth floor. It is arguably the most athletic piece in the exhibition. At its apex,
about ten feet in the air, a Woman Wrestling Entertainment Diva is drawn with her left fist
to strike an opponent whom Haendel cut out. She is wearing plaid shorts, a spandex top and has
a large tattoo on her torso. Seen from a distance and in the context of the whole work, the WWE
Diva looks like a basketball player in mid-air about to slam dunk a basketball. Haendel achieved
this effect by cutting a circle about the size of a basketball from a photo-realistic drawing of
fishing boats in front of her.
The drawing on the far left shows a girl of about 4 with three dolls. She has her right hand on
her face with her fingers near her ear.
When asked about the piece, the multidisciplinary artist and social engineer Jack Waters
said, “Inter-racial dolls are a tricky thing. It is kind of a mixed race theme. It is kind of an
exoticization by the exotic.” Referring to the dolls he said, “One is training a girl to be a girl.
The dolls, as toys, start to be a training tool, as teaching girls to be women. The doll is not a doll
baby. It is a doll teenager.”
Haendel’s collage of drawings is also about health. To the right of the girl and the dolls,
there is a picture of a knife and an apple with sections cut from it. Another two drawings
anachronistically depict four presidents in top hats who could be convivially watching a
basketball game. Abraham Lincoln is holding a plastic 16 ounce bottle. Near the center is a
collection of catch phrases, similar to Nike’s “Just do it!” Two of them say, “Does fear drive
us?” and “Is change necessary?”
The work is called Theme Time after Bob Dylan’s radio show with the same name.
Hauntteddd!! n huntteddd!!! n daunttless!! n shuntteddd!!! by the artist and cantor Charlemagne
Palestine is a sound installation solo that was recorded in the Whitney Museum stairway. It is
also athletic in the sense Palestine walked up and down the stairs while singing. Diaphanous
scarfs and stuffed animals are on top of 12 speakers.
Although only very noticeable at times, Palestine’s sound-track is constantly audible in the main
galleries on each floor. From a curatorial perspective, it is quite fascinating how the twelve
speakers were wired from the entry level to the 5th
the passageways of the stairs. From a distance, Hauntteddd!! n huntteddd!!! n daunttless!! n
shuntteddd!!! sounds like a slightly strident buzzing. Quite lot of it resembles the Gregorian
chant. The volume of the small speaker wrapped in cloth on the fourth floor was quite
Joel Snyder, the Manager of Member Benefits and Relations at the Whitney said, “This
description makes me think that there were several different microphones used to record it.” He
surmised that “each speaker was playing its own track.”
Elijah Burgher’s “Portrait of Jhon Balance as Talisman against Suicide” is a color pencil drawing
of a man’s shoulders and head. Balance was a guitarist in the British band Coil and one of its
founding members. According to an article in the Guardian, Balance went to a boarding school
In Burgher’s drawing, he is lying on his back with his eyes open. Burgher put Balance’s ear at
the approximate center of the frame. His mustache and beard are carefully drawn so the side of
his mustache and the hair that grows forward under his chin form an upside down Gothic arch.
His hair is long on the top and the sides down to about half an inch above the ear. The sideburns
and the area around the ears were buzzed, making a line with the longer hair as if it was done
with a bowl.
It appears that Burgher did the very realistic portrait by appropriating and modifying an almost
psychedelic photograph posted on Coil’s video, “Fire of the Mind.”
In a 1988 interview for Dutch television, Jhon Balance said, “We’ve had numerous opportunities
to play huge festivals in Holland and in America. We’ve been offered to play the Palladium
which is like the biggest night club there at the moment. We just say no. We get this perverse
pleasure in turning these things down.”
A multimedia guide on headphones is available for the Biennial.
The exhibition is open until May 25. For more information about Jack Waters, visit his website:
Allied Productions Inc.