On yet another unfortunately cold morning this past Saturday, I feared a long day ahead of making lists, brainstorming, and procrastinating. Somehow, I remembered that the Whitney Biennial just opened. It was just past 8am. Perfect. The museum opened at 10:30am, so I had a good chance of avoiding being one of those “I-read-about-it-in-the-New-Yorker” standing in line. I put on my Marc Jacobs dark blue faux fur coat, dark red lipstick, running sneakers (Ok, so I was one of those.), and eventually made it downtown to the quiet, hungover streets of the Meat Packing district.
As I waited in line, my leather fingerless gloves were unsurprisingly not keeping me warm, so I was grateful more than anything else when they allowed us plebeians to enter. Then, it dawned on me: I hadn’t been to a museum in a long time. Had I really been so caught up with my own work that I stopped looking around at what other artists were creating? It’s such an easy rut to fall into, but this city is literally bursting at the seams with theatres, clubs, galleries, and flexible, multimedia performance spaces. I had no excuse. So this week’s review is about When A Musician Walks Into a Museum, and one artist speaks to another.
Before diving into the Biennial itself, I decided to warm up with “Human Interest: Portraits from the Whitney’s Collection” located on Floor Seven. The different themes were so clearly explained in words that made the art come to life. I wandered around, reflected, and refrained from posting on Instagram. I was primed and ready, so I proceeded to the next floor down and entered the longest-running survey of American art.
Floor Six: In the near distance, to my left, there was a video playing. A voice that sounded like a preacher from the Deep South declared, “I’m a human being but where is your humanity to my people, black people.” As he continued, the images on the screen became distorted, and then deconstructed. Next to the screen, there were two triggers, two real ass triggers. I kept looking back and forth between the video, the triggers, the video, and the triggers. The voice continued. But I couldn’t take my eyes off those triggers. I thought to myself, how could such small, ordinary objects be loaded with so much meaning?
On that same floor, there was one painting by Henry Taylor that lingered with me more than anything else I saw that morning. As I looked at it, I suddenly had to sit down. When I got back up and tried to walk away, I returned to the work and broke down in tears. The painting depicted the shooting of Philando Castile. And there was one detail in particular that captured my attention. He was clutching his arms in a kind of twisted manner, almost as if he was showing me that he wanted to be held, protected, and kept safe. But his eyes were blank, and it was already too late.
Art can make the humane out of the inhumane, and say something, when we’re at a loss for words. Experiencing other art forms, in particular, reminds me of how art captures, translates, and interprets the inexplicable complexities of the human experience. It’s a privilege to be an artist because I get to communicate all those layers in a language that is coated with beauty. And if I only speak to one person, then I’ve done my job.