BY TESS THACKARA
“Irony, be gone,” said the Whitney’s director Adam Weinberg this morning, as he inaugurated the 2017 Whitney Biennial—the first to take place in its Meatpacking District location.
The phrase was uttered softly, without emphasis, but the words can be seen to summarize the 78th edition of the biennial, curated by Christopher Y. Lew and Mia Locks. The duo’s show is direct and unapologetically concerned with the state of American society and the individual lives of American citizens, without being drawn into sentimentality or ever becoming too noisy or polemical to lose its impact.
A vivid example of that earnest, poignant engagement with the country’s socio-economics and identity politics can be found at the show’s very entrance, in the ground floor’s John R. Eckel, Jr. Foundation Gallery.
L.A. artist Rafa Esparza’s Figure Ground: Beyond the White Field (2017), an adobe brick construction, has been installed within the dark gallery space. It evokes the rudimentary structures of agrarian civilizations, even a bare-bones, pre-modern space of worship, and it conveys both a sense of the hard realities faced by individuals of color in America, rooted in a complex, loaded history, as well as the possibility of transcendence.
Esparza created the structure collaboratively with “a group of Brown, queer-identified individuals” and with bricks and water transported from L.A.—a kind of reverse colonization from West to East, as the wall text notes.
In a gesture of community, he also invited other artists to place works within the installation. They include Beatriz Cortez, who installed a ritualistic heap of volcanic rock on the floor of the structure; Eamon Ore-Giron, whose site-specific painting on its inside wall, in gold, blue, and red, suggests a sun deity; a reconstructed artifact by Gala Porras-Kim that explores the fraught concept of cultural authenticity; and photographs from Dorian Ulises López Macías’s “Mexicano” series, large-scale, striking portraits of Mexican men, hung on the wall of the adobe. Hold your ear up to a gap in the bricks and you’ll hear a sound work by Joe Jiménez.
“Some of our bodies are always under attack” are the words I heard emanating from beyond the brick wall via a recorded male voice………..