The celebrates its 79th Biennial exhibition this year, continuing its mission of looking at the state of the world through the eyes of American artists. This year’s installment finds itself in a world of worrisome parallels to the year of its inception, 1932—a time when nationalism is on the rise in Europe and while isolationism, injustice, and inequality have become more pervasive in the United States. The works featured explore these topics with a fierce sense of purpose, all while skirting a fine line between hope and hopelessness.
The exhibition features 75 mostly emerging artists and collectives, a deliberate choice by the curators who wanted to highlight the difficulty these creatives have getting their work shown. One of the concurrent themes that thread through the works is the language and iconography of mundane materials (e.g. scissors, rope, beads, tubing, plastic bags, tacks), which are repurposed and reimagined in pieces that are varied in scale and media.
Nicole Eisenman’s Procession, which actually comprises eight separate pieces that take up the museum’s terrace, is one of the largest pieces on display. The materials, ranging from fiberglass to trash-can lids to sneakers, come together to create a sculpture with movement and energy. The lead androgynous figure pulls a cart with a prostrate form (one of two in the piece, which provide much of the work’s tension) atop that could be either victim or royalty, depending on the viewer’s frame of mind. The leader of the procession also balances a fishing rod over its shoulder, whose catch is ironically tuna cans instead of actual fish. Eisenman creates procession of human life with all its contradictions, marked by moments of both suffering and whimsy.
Many works, like Tomashi Jackson’s The Woman is King (Mary and Marlene), address political and historical issues dealing with inequality and displacement of particular communities. Using everyday objects like paper bags, food wrappers, and awnings, Jackson creates dynamic colorful collages interspersed with newspaper headlines that bring home the message, one of which reads “De Blasio Defends City Taking African-American Properties.” Jackson brings together these disparate items hoping to encourage discussion about New York City’s neighborhood gentrification at the expense of the elderly in communities of color.
Some pieces that take up the same themes in different media are Kota Ezawa’s National Anthem, a high-definition video created from illustrated video of NFL players taking a knee; Jeff Gibson’s People Like Us, a gorgeously vibrant evocation of Native American Ghost Dance garments associated with resistance to colonialism; and Simone Leigh’s Corrugated and Stick, sublime sculptures of women figures in ceramic and bronze that challenge traditional concepts of femininity and which tap into the culture of West Africa and Ancient Egypt.
With its carefully curated pieces that use varied materials that somehow all pull together to create a whole, the exhibition proves there is hope that, as a country, we can do the same.
The exhibition, which runs until September 22, 2019, will also include a series of performances and films both indoor and outdoor.