A screengrab of the Whitney Biennial hoax webpage. Photograph: guardiannews.com

This week, the Whitney Museum in New York City gives over most of its exhibition space for its 2012 Biennial, showcasing the work of more than 50 contemporary artists. As in previous years, the Biennial is sponsored by Deutsche Bank and art auctioneers Sotheby’s. The co-curators of the show, Elizabeth Sussman and Jay Sanders, describe some of their criteria for inclusion:

“Artists are bringing other artists into their work – a form of free collage or reinvention that borrows from the culture at large as a way of rewriting the standard narratives and exposing more relevant hybrids. There is also the radical production of new forms, fabrication on a more modest scale. Artists are constantly redefining what an artist can be at this moment and this Biennial celebrates that fact.”

An unknown number of artists/activists – with notably good web skills – took this brief of reinventing and borrowing for the purpose of rewriting the Biennial’s “standard narrative” a few steps further than the Whitney had anticipated. First, on 24 February, Occupy Wall Street’s Arts and Labor Group issued a letter calling for the end of the Whitney’s Biennial in 2014, citing:

“The biennial perpetuates the myth that art functions like other professional careers and that selection and participation in the exhibition, for which artists themselves are not compensated, will secure a sustainable vocation. This fallacy encourages many young artists to incur debt from which they will never be free and supports a culture industry and financial and cultural institutions that profit from their labors and financial servitude.”


Matt Seaton