After Two Controversy-Plagued Editions, the Whitney Museum Appoints Two ‘Acutely Attuned’ Curators to Organize Its 2021 Biennial

The museum has once again tapped its own in-house curators for the job.

Whitney Curators Adrienne Edwards and David Breslin. Photo by Bryan Derballa.
Whitney Curators Adrienne Edwards and David Breslin. Photo by Bryan Derballa.

Adrienne Edwards and David Breslin will curate the 80th edition of the Whitney Biennial, which will take place in spring 2021, the museum announced today.

The museum is once again tapping its own in-house talent for the task. Edwards was named curator of performance at the museum in 2018, while Breslin joined the Whitney in 2016 and was recently named director of curatorial initiatives.

“David and Adrienne will be a great team,” museum director Adam Weinberg said in a statement. “They are inquisitive, curious, and are acutely attuned to the art of the current moment. No doubt they will bring fresh outlooks to this historic exhibition and reinvent it for these complex and challenging times.”

Before joining the museum, Edwards was a curator of Performa since 2010 and curator at large for the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis. Her first show at the Whitney is the recently opened exhibition of work by Jason Moran, which traveled from the Walker to ICA Boston and then to the Wexner Center for the Arts before landing in Manhattan. She also assembled a series of performances for the Whitney called “Moved by the Motion: Sudden Rise,” featuring artists Wu Tsang, boychild, and Fred Moten.

In his role at the museum, Breslin focuses on collection-centered exhibitions that take a longer view of the museum’s history vis-a-vis its permanent holdings. He co-curated the 2018 retrospective “David Wojnarowicz: History Keeps Me Awake at Night” and “An Incomplete History of Protest: Selections from the Whitney’s Collection 1990–1960.” Before joining the Whitney, Breslin was an associate curator at the Clark Institute in Williamstown and oversaw the catalogue raisonné for Jasper Johns‘s drawings at the Menil Drawing Institute, where he worked on public programs and scholarly events.

The pair has a daunting task ahead as the biennial is notorious for generating controversy. In the 2017 edition, co-curators Christopher Lew and Mia Locks were faced with a public outcry stemming from their inclusion of Dana Schutz‘s portrait of Emmett Till, Open Casket.

At the next edition, which is closing later this month, curators Jane Panetta and Rujeko Hockley were outspoken about the “anxiety” they felt curating the show, which was the first biennial to open since President Trump’s inauguration. But even though they said the work they chose “did not feel exceptionally strident or solely about being angry or examples of agitprop,” the exhibition was still mired in controversy as a group of artists called for the removal of their work from the show in protest of the museum’s then board member Warren Kanders, who has since resigned.


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