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It’s Bye Boomers, Hello Millennials at This Year’s Whitney Biennial

The Whitney Biennial opened its 81st edition in New York City to the public less than a month ago, with works by 76 artists, including the members of two collectives. Organized by the Whitney Museum of American Art, the marquee exhibition isn’t just a harbinger of formal and thematic trends in the contemporary art world. Historically, it’s also been perceived as a sign of who “makes it” in a field that’s infamous for leaving out so many.

We set out to analyze some of the demographic characteristics of this year’s cohort versus those of the previous edition in 2022, focusing on age, place of origin and current location, educational background, and pronouns. Much of this information was shared with the museum voluntarily by the artists. We independently tracked down some of the missing data points, such as where artists went to school, since the museum curiously told us that this isn’t something they keep track of. Data specialist Ryan Buggy helped analyze and visualize the different data points.

So how does Even Better Than the Real Thing stack up? Read on and click through our interactive graphs to learn where 25% of participants got their MFAs, which generation is best represented (hint: they like their avocado toast), and more. You might find a few surprises.

Age and Generation: the Whitney Millennial?

Call it the Whitney Millennial: In the 2024 edition, artists born between 1981 and 1996 beat out every other generation combined, making up 60% of the group. This year’s show is notably younger than the previous one, in which Millennials were still the largest individual generational category but Generation X and Baby Boomers lagged not too far behind.

The youngest artist in the 2022 group was born in 1995, making them 26 or 27 years old at the time; the youngest artist in 2024 was born in 2000, making them 23 or 24 today. The oldest living artist in the current Biennial is in their early 80s — that’s older than the eldest participant in the previous edition, who was in their mid-70s. But there are only two artist estates represented in this year’s Biennial — those of Mavis Pusey (1928–2019) and Edward Owens (1949–2009) — compared to five estates in the 2022 show.

The most popular birth year in the present Biennial is 1990 (equivalent to 33 or 34 years old); in 2022, it was 1982 (39 or 40 years old at the time).

Geography: What Is “American” Anyway?

The Whitney Biennial is described as “the longest-running survey of American art.” But what does “American” mean, exactly?

This year’s show has more international representation in comparison to previous years: While the 2022 and 2019 iterations were largely made up of artists who were born in the United States (approximately 72%), US-born participants comprise just 53% of this year’s cohort, which features artists from 25 other countries and territories, including Canada (four), China (three), India (three), and the United Kingdom (three).

For comparison, the 2022 iteration represented 15 other countries and regions. Despite this diversity, the overwhelming majority of participants — both from the US and beyond — come from cities.

While there is greater variety in where participants were born, more than 60% of the artists listed the US as their current place of residence, with New York City and Los Angeles being the most popular locations, jointly accounting for 30 of 76 artists, or almost 40%. The Biennial does appear to have gotten less NYC- and LA-heavy, though: In 2022, 61% of the artists lived in one of the two cities.

Nearly all participants who said they currently live in the US are residents of coastal states, with the exception of 10 artists based in New Mexico, Iowa, Illinois, Michigan, and Ohio.

Education: School Is Still Worth It

Unsurprisingly, it looks like artists still need to go to school to get into the Biennial. In the past two iterations of the exhibition, only three participants did not go to college, and almost 70% of artists attended graduate school. And in both editions, the majority of artists had a graduate degree — mostly a Master of Fine Arts (MFA), long considered the holy grail for a career in the visual arts, though the question of whether artists really need the degree is somewhat divisive.

In the current Biennial, the most popular schools for MFA programs were the University of California, Los Angeles (five); Columbia University (five); the California College of the Arts ( four); and Yale University (four) — together representing just under one-quarter of all artists in the show.

Yale lost its spot as the primary MFA school this year, but in the previous biennial in 2022, the school accounted for six artists’ MFA degrees. It was followed by the California Institute of the Arts (CalArts) (four); the University of California, Los Angeles (four); and Bard College (three). While these schools were more popular than the rest, they still didn’t make up a majority. In both 2022 and 2024, most Whitney Biennial participants attended other universities for their MFAs.

Pronouns: Not Male and Pale Anymore?

The Whitney publicly listed its participants’ pronouns for the first time this year, and one grouping proved overwhelmingly represented: More than half of the 70 artists who disclosed pronouns use she/her. Hyperallergic followed up with the remaining artists and received data for all but one, and she/her is still the most popular (55%), followed by he/him (20%), and they/them (13%).

Other artists reported she/they, he/they, no pronouns, and any/all. When grouped together with they/them, nonbinary pronouns were more frequent than he/him, with around one in four artists using them.

In conclusion, the 2024 Whitney Biennial is younger, more international, still predominantly bi-coastal in the US though less NY- and LA-centric, and most of the artists use she/her pronouns.

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