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After Low Attendance, Whitney Biennial Releases Open Call for “Controversial” Artwork


The Whitney Museum of American Art’s highly anticipated biennial has “unequivocally flopped,” according to its Department of Gen-Z Engagement. With admission numbers already paling in comparison to previous editions less than two weeks into the exhibition’s run, the museum has consequently issued an open call for “invigorating yet appropriately controversial” artwork to draw attendees to the show.

Posted on the museum’s Instagram page yesterday, March 31, the call explained that an unspecified “dwindling number of biennial attendees” indicated “an urgent need for measured controversy, neither too inflammatory nor too trite.”

“Think less Guerrilla Girls, more ‘Piss Christ,’” the call states. “Dream big, not huge.” The deadline to submit artwork is May 10.

What can artists interested in submitting aim to produce? According to the open call, suitable topics preferred by the curatorial team include “sweeping gestures to general injustices, nudity, Donald Trump, and the oppression of White women” in addition to “art that some may call racist, but that’s because they don’t get it.”

The call informs artists that the following topics will be automatically disqualified from consideration: “art worker unions, museum employee salaries, Whitney board members’ investments, and Palestine.” Artists are also respectfully asked to avoid making crude references to U2, for whose iconic 1991 song Even Better Than the Real Thing the biennial is widely thought to be named due to a certain curatorial team member’s rumored obsession with Bono.

Selected artworks will be on view starting in late May in the empty conference rooms haunting the third-floor galleries, alongside a flower wall bearing the slogan “#WhitneyWoke.”

The institution’s trepidation over the financial implications of its dismal biennial visitor stats, which some social media users characterized as “crying poverty,” raises questions about whether visitors should brace themselves for another ticket price hike.

“We’d hate to be forced to raise admissions fees again, but we’ll do it if we have to,” the Whitney commented alongside a 😈 emoji on its own Instagram post approximately two hours after its release.

A Whitney spokesperson explained to Hyperallergic in an email that the open call is in no way meant to detract from current biennial artists’ efforts at controversy.

“While we express deep gratitude for all of the artists’ thoughtful, nuanced critiques of various societal injustices, they clearly aren’t making the museum seem edgy enough for the general public,” the representative said. “They gave it their best shot, but as the show’s name makes clear, we’re looking for something even better than the real thing.”

“The question we pose to artists is this,” they continued, impassioned. “What purpose do biennials and art as a whole serve — societally, emotionally, financially — if museums can’t cash in on a significant boost in admission revenue?” (The spokesperson then sent a follow-up WhatsApp message to Hyperallergic stating, “Hey, bestie, so sorry. My supervisor said we can’t say that last bit. Can that be off the record? THanks sm queen”)



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