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Greatest Snits: Biennial Stars (and Detractors)

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1918
Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney opens the Whitney Studio Club in Greenwich Village. It houses small, annual exhibits that serve as prototypes for later Biennials.

1931
The Whitney Museum opens at 10 West 8th Street.

1932
The first Biennial features Georgia O’Keeffe’s Farm House Window and Door—and the exhibition debut of Edward Hopper. “No more telling evidence of the deplorable state of American art has ever been assembled,” says the New York Herald Tribune’s critic.

1937
The Biennial becomes an annual show of separate media: painting in the fall, sculpture in the spring.

1943
Closed pending (failed) negotiations to merge with the Met, the Whitney opens just for the Annual.

1946
Jackson Pollock’s debut in the Annual.

1954
The Whitney relocates to 22 West 54th Street.

1956
Philip Guston’s Dial appears in the Annual.

1959
Jasper Johns’s first appearance in the Annual, with Two Flags.

1961
Hopper’s iconic A Woman in the Sun appears.

1966
The present Whitney opens at 945 Madison Avenue.

1967
Warhol’s Annual debut, with Holly Solomon: 9 sections.

1968
Oldenburg’s iconic Giant Soft Ketchup Bottle With Ketchup makes its appearance.

1973
The Annual becomes the Biennial again. “A kind of visual rubbish designed with the express purpose of referring us to ‘ideas’ about art.” —Hilton Kramer in the Times.

1975
Video art is introduced—and curators show only artists who’ve never been in a Biennial or haven’t had a New York solo show in the past decade. “Boring, Childish, Awful”: Newsday.

1979
Film is introduced.

1981
Julian Schnabel’s Biennial debut, with Foufi Nouti in Hell and What to Do With Corner in Madrid. Kramer calls show “extremely boring” and “occasionally repulsive.”

1983
Debuts of Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring, Jenny Holzer, and Cindy Sherman—plus an unprecedented number of good reviews.

1985
Jenny Holzer’s iconic Unex Sign #1 (Survival Series) appears. “The worst [Biennial] in living memory,” says Time’s Robert Hughes.

1987
Jeff Koons makes his Biennial debut with the sculpture One Ball Total Equilibrium Tank.

1993
The “political Biennial.” Visitors receive I CAN’T IMAGINE EVER WANTING TO BE WHITE buttons. The Nation’s Arthur C. Danto responds, “I can’t imagine ever wanting to have had anything to do with the 1993 Whitney Biennial.”

1995
Klaus Kertess curates the “return to painting” Biennial. “I like this one,” says Michael Kimmelman of the Times, “despite the . . . occasionally pallid choices.”

1997 The first time an outside co-curator is brought in, Louise Neri of Harper’s Bazaar. Critics yawn. Ditto collectors: “I haven’t seen anything that makes me angry,” says Eli Broad.

2000
Internet art (below, work by Fakeshop) is introduced; Lisa Yuskavage and John Currin also show. But overall, “a triumph of mediocrity,” says Jerry Saltz of the Voice.

2002
Heavy on architecture (pictured, work by Javier Cambre) and dangerously unfocused, cry critics. “This show often defines art so broadly, and so laxly, that the art all but disappears,” says Roberta Smith of the Times.

2004
A generally well-received (if vaguely idea-less) Biennial, concentrating on artists not themes. “It’s been a difficult two years in the world,” says co-curator Debra Singer. “Maybe people were tired of beating up on the show.”


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