The Whitney Biennial: A Review of Sexuality

The Whitney Biennial, on display at the Whitney Museum of American Art from March 7through May 25, is a contemporary art exhibition featuring young and lesser-known artists. Michelle Grabner, Anthony Elms, and Stuart Comer, Chief Curator of Media and Performance at MoMA curate the Biennial. Comer curated the much talked about and highly discussed third floor also dubbed the “queer floor” by reviewers and visitors.


The first exhibition of the third floor warns visitors of illicit context in the next gallery, which display’s Bjarne Melgaard’s “Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity.” Upon entering the room visitors are greeted with rubber sex dolls lounging suggestively around the gallery including dolls in the spread eagle position and a placement indicative of female masturbation. Additionally in this gallery a screen shows “overtly sexual, gay, and animalistic acts engaged on screen than they disappear and are replaced by another flash of Dionysian excess.” [1]


In contrast to this exhibition, the next gallery highlights a photo exhibition entitled “Relationship”. This exhibition is created by two artists Rhys Ernst saw Zackary Drucker. Over the last five years, Zackary has transitioned from male to female, Rhys from female to male and their photo exhibition captures them in “scenarios most couples can relate to: celebrating anniversaries, lounging around the house while one fights off a cold, sitting poolside on a sunny day.” [2] This particular exhibition was created to, in the artists’ eyes, to show the realities of all relationships. The show has two ultimate goals in the eyes of Drucker:


“One is to show that all relationships are in some way banal… Another is about learning to love ourselves and deflect the distortions that prevent people from doing that… Ultimately [Drucker] would like to get to a point where we “surpass” the binaries of gender altogether. That would be the greatest transition of all,” [3].


One of the greatest successes of this exhibition as seen through a review, is that “a transgender couple, put queer consciousness on the front burner.” [4] However there is also criticism for this exhibition, especially in regards to placement. Reviewers comment that this floor is the only area in the entire Biennial that addresses issues of gender, sexuality, and identity. [5] While personally I do not see this as a failing of the curators but rather as an issue for the Biennial as a whole, but the comment did make me think a bit more about placement of these two specific exhibitions.


The curator’s decision to place “Relationship” and “Cruising Utopia” next to one another seemed striking to me. On the one hand both exhibitions cover similar topics such as sexuality and identity however, one is a photography display depicting the real lives of two transsexuals while the other displays sex dolls in suggestive poses with trippy backgrounds. “Cruising Utopia” is flashy and futuristic in contrast to “Relationships” which is real and raw. Personally, never seeing the exhibition, the juxtaposition felt almost comical in some ways, like the museum had unintentionally made “Relationship” less impactful amongst viewers because of the shock factor of “Cruising Utopia.”


Both exhibitions draw much deserved attention to issues of sexuality and gender, however I wonder if the message of “Relationship” is lost in the shock and awe that is the neighboring exhibition.


[1] Courtney Malick , “Review: The Whitney Biennial, 2014,” SFAQ International Arts and Culture, accessed April 28, 2014.


[2] Jacob Bernstein, “In Their Own Terms: The Growing Transgender Presence in Pop Culture,” March 12, 2014, access April 28, 2014.


[3] Ibid


[4] Ibid


[5] Malick, “Review: The Whitney Biennial, 2014.”


[6] Image: Photograph: courtesy of the artists and Luis, Zackary Drucker, Relationship (Zackary Drucker and Rhys Ernst, 2008),

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