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Art critic Jerry Saltz finds hope for America at the Whitney Biennial

Rafa Esparza's
Rafa Esparza's "Figure Ground: Beyond the White Field" is part of the 2017 Whitney Biennial.
Matthew Carasella / Whitney Museum of Art

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Every two years, the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York mounts a massive exhibit that’s designed to represent some of the best contemporary work by artists across the country. The 2017 Whitney Biennial opens to the public on March 17.

Its curators have been working on the show since 2015. But according to New York Magazine's Senior Art Critic Jerry Saltz, it’s hard to walk through the exhibit and not see socio-political themes that reflect what’s happening today. 

When The Frame spoke with Saltz he highlighted the work of LA-based artist Rafa Esparza, and Brooklyn-based painter Dana Schutz as artists whose work echoes themes around division and reconciliation, perceptions of Mexican men, and the Black Lives Matter movement.

He notes that half of the contributors to the Biennial are women and people of color which is extremely rare. But what struck him more is that the museum isn't making a big deal about that. He says, "They're not hitting you with a demographic club saying, we are good little humanists because it's all half women in the show or half people of color." Instead it's just like America. It's the DNA both of the country and the exhibit.

Finally, Saltz says that the Whitney Biennial gives him hope about where we are today and reaffirms art's role in society.

"I walked out feeling really good about being in the United States of America right now. That artists, audiences– we're all very awake. Each seeing things, albeit, from our own point of view but bringing a lot to the table. And that artists are very active already. And so are audiences that are open to possible different meanings. What's so fantastic about art is that unlike politics– which too often believes in certainty– art believes in paradox, meaning more than one thing is true at once. And this is art's secret weapon."

Read Jerry Saltz' review here. And you can hear is conversation with The Frame by clicking the above play button.

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