Celebrating the 2017 Whitney Biennial

Photograph by Ben Gancsos ©2016

The 2017 Biennial is the first to be held in the Whitney’s downtown home in New York’s Meatpacking District. Featuring works by 63 artists and collectives—many of them emerging—the Biennial explores such themes as community, gender, identity, race, geopolitics and education.

Curators Christopher Y. Lew and Mia Locks, chosen for their experience in contemporary art, created this year’s exhibition, presenting works by artists who embrace innovative approaches in video, performance, installation and text, as well as collaborations.

We are proud to sponsor this year’s Biennial. “It is an opportunity for artists, curators, critics, collectors and the viewing public to dive into the ideas and currents of contemporary art,” says Mark S. Roe, Head Curator of the JPMorgan Chase Art Collection. “The Whitney’s wonderful new space is particularly suited to the large multimedia and series formats that artists work in today.”

Transforming the commonplace

Artist Raul de Nieves’s interests in fashion, theater, religion and nature come together in an installation of sculpture positioned in front of a long window resembling stained glass. Titled Beginning & the end, neither & the otherwise, betwixt & between, the end is the beginning & the end (2016), the window treatment depicts gargoyle-like figures, insects and human forms created entirely out of paper, wood, glue, acetates, tape, and beads. Equally versatile creating opera as installations of footwear covered in tiny plastic beads, Mr. de Nieves takes painstaking care with his creations, reflecting his observation of manual techniques and traditions while growing up in Mexico.

Now based in Brooklyn, Mr. de Nieves “uses commonplace materials such as fabrics and glass beads found in craft stores to create exotic, glittering sculptures based on shoe forms and costumes used in his performances. The theme of transformation pushes the sculptures into abstract shapes, and informs the Whitney Museum windows covered in vividly colored acetate,” says Mr. Roe.

Weaving the personal and the political

Artist Lyle Ashton Harris, who works in photography, video, performance and installation, explores themes of race, identity and sexuality. His current work, The Ektachrome Archive (2014–ongoing), draws from more than 3,500 35mm Ektachrome slides he took between 1986 and 2001. The slides document his life during that time—intimate portraits of friends and lovers, as well as events such the Black Culture conference in 1991.

Mr. Harris combines these images with journals, videos and objects from the same period in installations, photo-collages and performance slide lectures. “This innovative approach imbues personal images with a larger meaning by placing them in the context of a historical record,” says Mr. Roe.

Mr. Harris’s earlier work explores photography as a means of both revealing and oppressing its subjects, as in his cropped images of people’s faces and photographs of the backs of people’s heads. The brown tinting that he gives to his works references mug shots and the use of these kinds of photographs to police those who don’t fit social norms. Four of these works are part of the JPMorgan Chase Art Collection.

Left: Lyle Ashton Harris (American, born 1965), Untitled (Face 41 Ike), 1998, Unique polaroid, JPMorgan Chase Art Collection. © 1998 Copyright Lyle Ashton Harris; Courtesy of the artist

Right: Lyle Ashton Harris (American, born 1965), Untitled (Back 34 Mother Dear), 1998, Unique polaroid, JPMorgan Chase Art Collection. © 1998 Copyright Lyle Ashton Harris; Courtesy of the artist

“These early works of Harris represent one of the strengths of our collection, acquiring the works of artists early in their careers,” says Mr. Roe. Of the thousand artists selected for the Whitney Biennial since 1973, the JPMorgan Chase Art Collection features works by half of them, including Glenn Ligon, Jeffrey Gibson, Carol Bove, Cindy Sherman, LaToya Ruby Frazier, Amy Sillman, Rochelle Feinstein, R. H. Quaytman, Mark Bradford, Tony Oursler, Jack Goldstein, Spencer Finch, Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle, Shirin Neshat, Lari Pittman, Chris Burden, Nancy Holt, Julio Galan and Nancy Spero.

“Collecting contemporary art is an adventure,” Mr. Roe says. “One of the exciting elements of searching out the work of emerging artists is that it is new and to some extent unknown. There are risks, but the rewards are immense.”

Signature storytelling

Not all artists in the Biennial work in multimedia formats. For example, Shara Hughes’s paintings combine color, pattern and texture in brightly colored scenes inspired as much by fantasy as observation of the real world. “Hughes starts each artwork by creating a problem to solve—a texture made from gesso, or color applied to the back of the canvas that soaks through to the front in unpredictable ways. The resulting compositions are equal parts cutting-edge abstractions and psychedelic landscape,” notes Mr. Roe.

Aliza Nisenbaum, who was born in Mexico and now lives in Brooklyn, New York, always creates her paintings from life. Her paintings depict individuals who are often undocumented immigrants; by showing how they have learned to blend into our culture, she helps call attention to the immigrant experience.

Since the 1970s, John Divola has been photographing abandoned houses in his native California. He will often add other elements—including his own spray-painted marks to existing graffiti. Most recently, he started incorporating discarded paintings from students at the University of California, Riverside, where he has taught since 1988. He hangs the paintings in the interiors, contextualizing them in new ways.

Innovative technique

“Of all the artists in this year’s Biennial, one I am very excited about is Ulrike Müller,” says Mr. Roe. “I discovered her work last fall, and was immediately drawn to her paintings, rugs and drawings. She utilizes an established vocabulary of modernist painting in a way that makes her works distinctly her own.”

Born in Austria and now living in Brooklyn, New York, Ms. Müller works with the format and type of enamel paint used in street signs. “Instead of an industrialized process, she creates them by hand and softens the palette,” explains Mr. Roe.

Ulrike Müller (Austrian, born 1971), Others, 2015, Vitreous enamel on steel, JPMorgan Chase Art Collection. Courtesy of the artist and Callicoon Fine Arts, New York

Ms. Müller imbeds geometric shapes and images not only in her handcrafted enamel-on-steel artworks, but also in woven rugs. “Müller’s materials and techniques subvert the male-centric ideas just under the surface of the modern art canon,” Mr. Roe observes.

Artistic milestone

For both established as well as emerging artists, “inclusion in the Biennial marks the point in their career when they can say, ‘I’ve arrived,’” says Mr. Roe. “For established artists, it is recognition of continued relevance and advancement. Even in a crowded field of art fairs and a proliferation of biennials around the world, the Whitney Biennial stands out.”

See an interview with curator Christopher Y. Yew as he takes a look back at the 2017 Whitney Biennial.

To receive a copy of Your Art Collection: Financial planning for the life of your collection, co-produced with Sotheby’s, or to discuss how art ownership fits into your overall wealth plan, please contact us, and a J.P. Morgan representative will be in touch with you.

Installation view of Raúl de Nieves, beginning & the end neither & the otherwise betwixt & between the end is the beginning & the end, 2016. Whitney Biennial 2017, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, March 17-June 11, 2017. Collection of the artist; courtesy Company Gallery, New York. Photograph by Matthew Carasella.

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Lyle Ashton Harris, Lyle, London, 1992, 2015. Chromogenic print, 20 ½ x 15 in. (52.1 x 38.1 cm). Collection of the artist; courtesy the artist.

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Shara Hughes, In the Clear, 2016. Oil, acrylic and dye on canvas, 68 x 60 in. (172.7 x 152.4 cm). Collection of the artist; courtesy Rachel Uffner, New York.

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John Divola, Abandoned Painting B, 2007. Inkjet print, 44 x 54 in. (111.8 x 137.1 cm). Collection of the artist; courtesy Maccarone Gallery, New York and Los Angeles, and Gallery Luisotti, Santa Monica, CA.

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Aliza Nisenbaum, La Talaverita, Sunday Morning NY Times, 2016. Oil on linen, 68 x 88 in. (172.7 x 223.5 cm). Collection of the artist; courtesy T293 Gallery, Rome and Mary Mary, Glasgow.

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