A past contributor to Artsy (see her picks
Miami Beach 2013),
practicing artist and professor Michelle Grabner is the artists’ artist, and
the artists’ curator. “Although it may be far-reaching to think that a Whitney
Biennial could be organized as a curriculum for other artists, aiming at
pedagogy seemed a worthy ambition,” she writes
of her mission in curating the fourth floor portion of the
Whitney Biennial, a biennial in itself. Attempting to present accessible
themes, including “contemporary abstract painting by women; materiality and
affect theory; and art as strategy—in other words, conceptual practices
oriented toward criticality,” Grabner presented a floor that as she hoped is
“slow and grounded in the ‘thingness’ of contemporary art.” With works like
Sheila Hicks’ brilliantly colored fiber column pouring from the ceiling to the
ground and Sterling Ruby’s cavernous ceramic basins, Grabner has certainly
brought the emphasis back to the thing, the hand, the artist. We
posed five questions to Grabner, encompassing subjects from curatorial tools to
Artsy: Can you describe one or two works that are the
‘centerpiece’ of your floor, or that anchor a theme or underpinning—visual or
conceptual—in some way?
Michelle Grabner: ’s
monumental fiber column flowing down from above the ceiling
coffers down to the slate floor is a celebration of verticality, natural and
synthetic texture, and color. ’s
ceramic basins are also a material
indulgence, but here his forms are hard, reflective and glassy. The fulcrum of
my exhibition balances monumental gestures dedicated to materiality with
large-scale work that volleys in criticality, signs, and found imagery. Example
, Ken Lum,
Gretchen Bender, and Philip Vanderhyden. Overall I would say that my section of
the Whitney Biennial is slow and grounded in the “thingness” of contemporary
Artsy: How do you think this Biennial will be
MG: 2014 is the year of three Biennials, one
stacked on top of the other in the old Breuer Building.
Artsy: Can you offer a Tweetable line about your floor that you
would want someone like the New York Times’ Roberta
Smith (or another notable art critic) to release to the (virtual) world?
MG: “The 4th floor generously obliges the viewer
with an abundant of glorious material and intellectual affect.”
Artsy: What is your most important “tool” as a
curator and why?
MG: My trust in artists. They always know best.
Don’t let curators, critics, or dealers tell you different.
Artsy: What’s next for you?
MG: I am working on my first solo exhibition at James
that will open in the fall of 2014.