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Whitney Biennial-bound artists take a bow in Miami

Dealers test whether the New York museum's approval translates to commercial success

by Sarah P. Hanson  |  2 December 2016
Whitney Biennial-bound artists take a bow in Miami
Sneak preview: Callicoon Fine Arts is showing Rug (gato de conchinilla) (2015) by Ulrike Müller, who will feature in the Whitney Biennial next year (Image: © Vanessa Ruiz)
Just two weeks before Art Basel in Miami Beach opened, the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York released the artist list for its 2017 biennial: co-organised by Christopher Y. Lew and Mia Locks, it is due to open next March. But visitors to the fair can get a sneak preview in the aisles this week as dealers show off their newly anointed talents.

Urgent topics

Mitchell-Innes & Nash has brought works by Pope.L, Leigh Ledare and the collective GCC, highlighting a trio of urgent topics that are likely to come up in the biennial: race, gender and collective action. The Chicago-based performance artist and painter Pope.L has made a new canvas for his Skin Set series, Sunny Day White Power (2016), incorporating newspaper, a shower curtain and a pointedly dangling rope. Despite the provocative title, “the way he likes to frame it, it’s about race, but it’s not just about race,” says the gallery’s Josephine Nash. “It’s more about social constructs.” The work sold during Wednesday’s VIP preview in the region of $100,000 to a “fantastic New York collection”.

In the 1990s, the Whitney Biennial was virtually synonymous with the phrase “identity politics”, but many in next year’s crop of artists take a more complex, fluid approach to questions of subjectivity and being in the world. In the fair’s Nova sector, 47 Canal’s stand is given over to Anicka Yi, who recently won the 2016 Hugo Boss Prize, which includes an exhibition at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York. Based around a body of work the artist made after a trip to the Amazon, Yi’s installation marries the natural and the artificial with organic and technological processes.

Discovering new names

Altman Siegel, of San Francisco, has brought small sculptures by Zarouhie Abdalian, a New Orleans-based conceptual artist who examines issues of labour history and politics. The works are made of clusters of defunct tools, such as mallets and oil cans, and plated in polished nickel; Abdalian “arranges them in a way that each one supports the others”, says the gallery’s Facundo Argañaraz, who was in the process of swapping out one version that sold during the VIP preview.

Another Whitney artist who has found success in Miami is Austrian-born, New York-based Ulrike Müller, whose work is on show with Callicoon Fine Arts in the Positions sector. With nods to Bauhaus-inflected Modernism and an appealingly spare vocabulary, Müller explores the relationship of the body to abstraction in woven wool rugs and vitreous enamel paintings. “We’ve had a wonderful response,” says the gallery’s Elizabeth Lamb, noting that the stand was already sold out.

Inclusion in a major biennial can boost a young artist’s market, but most dealers say that their strategy for Miami was unchanged by the unveiling of the Whitney’s list. “The announcement just happened,” says a spokeswoman for Los Angeles’s Moran Bondaroff gallery, which is showing abstract collage-paintings by Torey Thornton at Nada, the more curatorially minded fair that focuses on younger dealers. “It’s too early to tell if the value [of the artist’s work] will increase.”

“You can talk about monetary value, but it’s more about recognition… there’s a lot of attention being paid to the artist’s work now,” says a spokeswoman for New York’s Company gallery, which is showing pearly beaded figures and paintings by Raúl de Nieves at Nada. “We had planned to show him here before the biennial announcement.”

Additional reporting by Gabriella Angeleti

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