68% of the selected artists come from artist residency programs. Only 11% come from blue chip galleries.
In 1973, the Whitney Biennial sought to “select work that was contributing significantly to the development of contemporary art.” The museum showcased work from 213 artists. Some were well-exhibited with strong gallery representation; Jasper Johns, Robert Raushenberg, and Cy Twombly. Others were what Director John Baur called “younger innovators;” Barbara Kruger, Alice Adams, and Jim Nutt. The exhibition's successful convergence of different thoughts and modes of making has since given the Whitney a strong reputation for capturing its zeitgeist.
This year’s Whitney Biennial, titled Quiet as It’s Kept, was challenged by all that has happened since 2020, but promises to uphold this reputation. Curators David Breslin and Adrienne Edwards’ state that the biennial “features an intergenerational and interdisciplinary group of sixty-three artists and collectives whose dynamic works reflect the challenges, complexities, and possibilities of the American experience today.”
Similar to the 1973 exhibition, the artists included in the 2022 iteration of Whitney Biennial are at different phases of their artistic career. Out of 63 artists and collectives, 7 are represented by blue chip galleries (here being David Zwirner, Gagosian, Hauser & Wirth, and Pace Gallery,) 28 have solid gallery representation. More importantly, 43 have participated in at least one artist residency. This selection is a shift from what is predominantly fed to us through online contemporary art channels.
Today, contemporary art headlines show broken auction records, the successes of the art fair season, NFT's, and celebrated blue-chip solo exhibitions. Even further, the 2022 UBS Art Market Report states that 79% HNW (high net worth) collectors prefer to buy their work from galleries, auctions, and fairs while only 3% buy directly from an artist's studio. But are these collectors truly buying work that reflects our contemporary world? It's an important question to keep in mind considering the relationship between collectors and museums; what is bought is often gifted and institutionalized.
David Breslin and Adrienne Edwards curated the anticipated return of the Whitney Biennial, not by considering an artist's financial success, but by looking for the work that has the ability to resonate to the broader human experiences of our complex, painful, confusing time.
Knowing that the majority of the artists included in Quiet as It’s Kept have been in residency, one has to wonder: would the work in this exhibition have been able to develop, or even exist, without the support of their residencies? Perhaps it is time to reconsider the relationship between contemporary art and its market, and look deeply into the spaces where ideas and creation are nurtured without commercial pressure.