The Whitney Biennial strikes again.
May 7, 2012, Vol. 17, No. 32 • By JAMES GARDNER
Quite aside from the general paltriness of their goals and attainments, the problem with the works in all three of these exhibitions, either individually or together, is that they account for only a tiny fragment of the art being made in America today. Overwhelmingly, these works are populist in their vocabulary and ostensibly more interested in ideas (such as the artists take them to be) than in forms.
And yet, there is far more good art being created in the United States, and around the world, than one would ever imagine from the Whitney Biennial, the sundry international art fairs, or the galleries of Chelsea. In November, an extraordinary museum, Crystal Bridges, opened in Bentonville, Arkansas. It was founded by Alice Walton, an heir to the Walmart fortune, and funded mainly by the Walton Family Foundation. It is an encyclopedic museum of American art, and its collection of contemporary art, though extensive, is only a subchapter of the story it tells.
Now, it is one thing to have money and another to have taste, and Ms. Walton clearly has an abundance of both. But what is most interesting about her collection is that—even where it overlaps with what is on view in the Chelsea galleries—it has been chosen more for its visual power than for the stated meaning of the individual works. Here you will find abstractions and landscapes, sculptures and installations, by realists and conceptualists, by artists who are the toast of the art world and artists whose names you may never have heard.
What is so important about Crystal Bridges, however, is that it offers a vastly different assessment of contemporary American art that runs parallel to the mainstream, that locus of money and power represented by the Biennial. It proves that, although there is still fine and important art being created in America, you are unlikely to find it at the Whitney Museum of American Art.