A Dark Mood in Contemporary Culture

Are American artists finally addressing the current state of world affairs in their artworks? Could it be that American artists have at last rediscovered, and are re-embracing, the tenets of Social Realism – albeit in an updated form? If what we are being told about the upcoming 2006 Whitney Biennial is any indication, American artists seem ready to reclaim their legacy of being engaged citizens, social critics, and prophetic town criers.

The 2006 Whitney Biennial, scheduled to take place in March, is viewed as a massive survey of modern American art – and word has it that the colossal exhibit has taken a political turn, representing “a dark mood in contemporary culture.” It’s encouraging to hear that the usually apolitical postmodernist crowd, long involved in an art practice severely alienated from the rest of society, have been spurred by recent events to create socially relevant artworks. However, I’m concerned over what type of political turn these postmodernists are taking.

What coherent statements will artists at the Whitney Biennial be making? Frankly, an art based on gloomy cynicism will get us nowhere, and art that does not directly address people in a clear and cogent fashion cannot possibly hope to rescue humanity from the abyss. Postmodernism does not have a very good track record in this regard. I don’t take a stance critical of conceptual art per se – but for goodness sake – please give me concepts worthy of consideration. We’ll just have to wait and see what the 2006 Whitney Biennial presents to the world. In the meantime, read an interview with Chrissie Iles (of the Whitney) and Philippe Vergne (senior curator at the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis), who curated the upcoming 2006 Whitney Biennial.

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