The All-Woman ‘Whitney Houston Biennial’ Is Back, and It’s No Joke
Curator Christine "C." Finley promises the 2017 edition brings the "Greatest Love of All"
Big contemporary art survey shows all tend to have one thing in common: a predominance of male artists. This year’s Whitney Biennial in New York may be a more representative showcase of the current state of American art (both in terms of race and gender) than is the norm, but curator and artist Christine “C.” Finley is showing up the highly anticipated event with an exhibition of her own: the second edition of the cheekily named Whitney Houston Biennial, which features women artists exclusively.
The show is named, of course, for the beloved singer and actress Whitney Houston, who died in 2012. The inaugural outing in 2014 took its name from the Grammy winner’s 1994 hit “I’m Every Woman,” while this year’s show is titled “Greatest Love of All,” after the 1986 Houston single. (Like the Whitney Museum of American Art, which delayed its biennial a year following the opening of its new Meatpacking home in 2015, the Whitney Houston Biennial took a time-out in 2016.)
“We have less square footage but more than double the artists, which sounds crazy,” Finley told artnet News of this year’s alterna-biennial in a phone conversation. “When I say it’s a salon-style show, I mean it’s like art wall paper!”
The exhibition has moved from an artist’s studio in DUMBO, Brooklyn, to 325 Broadway, the home of chashama, a curatorial non-profit run by Anita Durst (yes, of the Durst Dursts) that hosts exhibitions in unused real estate space. “We’re feeling fancy!,” Finley joked.
While it’s easy to see the Whitney Houston Biennial as some sort of protest of the more established exhibition on which its name is a play, Finley said it was not meant as any sort of critique. “We’re grateful for the Whitney, because without it this show wouldn’t be as funny,” she insisted, pointing out that in order for young artists to one day show at the more famous Biennial, they have to exhibit their work at smaller, scrappier outfits like hers.
This year’s 125 participants include many artists returning from 2014, as well as women whom Finley discovered over the intervening three years, be it through art fairs or Instagram. Each was invited to submit a proposal, and in addition to her own work, each artist has contributed a text honoring another woman, be it a family member or a historical figure, who helped pave the way for them.
“This allows the women who are in the show to think about their own legacy,” said Finley, proudly calling the exhibition “super generational” as well as “an exciting and encouraging platform for people to be able show some fresh work.”
It’s also a time where women’s issues are coming to the fore, with millions participating in the Women’s March in January following the inauguration of President Donald Trump, and worldwide celebrations of International Women’s Day on March 8.
“[The current political climate] makes [the Whitney Houston Biennial] more important,” Finley acknowledges, “but it was always going to be awesome when you get this many women together.”
“A lot of women are like ‘this is our time,'” she added. “I want to respond to that rather than the negative experiences women have had in the past.”
Although the 2017 biennial doesn’t open until March 19, Finley is already looking forward to 2019, and says she has already enlisted two young curators to help run it. She plans to then entirely hand off operations in 2021, but doesn’t see that as limiting the biennial’s potential. “I’m looking forward to going forever,” she insisted.
See the full list of participating artists below.
Mx Justin Vivian Bond
Tara L. Cavanaugh
Cat Del Buono
Gianna Leo Falcon
Gianna Leo Falcon
Kira Nam Greene
Alexandra “Sasha” Lerman
Nadja Verena Marcin
Chanel Matsunami Govreau
Amanda Turner Pohan
Maureen St. Vincent
Constanza Alarcon Tennen
The Whitney Houston Biennial will be on view at chashama, 325 West Broadway, March 19–29, 2017.
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