American who has lived in Britain for over a decade—until recently, he was
of Film at Tate Modern—Stuart Comer
admittedly struggled with the direction of attempting to define “American” in a
survey devoted to American art, “especially one with as much history behind it
as the Whitney Biennial,” he writes
. “I have been compelled by
artists whose work is as hybrid as the significant global, environmental, and
technological shifts reshaping the United States. The work I have brought
together for the Biennial reflects this.” Taking on subjects like gender
politics, globalism, and appropriation, Comer brought together over three dozen
artists, literary collectives, dancers, and more, working in a range of mediums
and across generations, from 89-year-old Etel Adnan
’s subdued paintings and
textile wall hanging dealing with geopolitical issues of the Arab world to Ken Okiishi
’s data-driven mixed-media
video. “The surfaces and spaces of the gallery respond in kind, playing
multiple roles—from white cube to theater to cinema to publishing forum, and
sometimes all of these at once.” We posed five questions to Comer, encompassing subjects from
curatorial tools to Twitter.
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?
Comer: Two of the first artists a visitor will encounter on my floor are Etel
Adnan and Ken Okiishi. Adnan, 89 years old, is a highly regarded writer from
Lebanon who has taught for many years in Northern California and lived between
Beirut, Paris and the States. Recently her work as a painter has become
recognized, and I want to highlight her importance as a cosmopolitan figure who
fuses visual and literary logic and makes us ask tougher questions about the
relationships between images, language and ourselves. Ken Okiishi represents a
younger generation who has emerged in a culture profoundly impacted by digital
media. His gesture/data
series of paintings on flatscreen monitors links
the history of gestural painting to contemporary media technologies, bringing
together radically different means and histories of recording the traces of
human presence. Rooms dedicated to Semiotext(e) and the curatorial and archival
work of Julie Ault
also provide a kind of codex to my interests in developing
This is the last year the Whitney Biennial will take place in the Breuer building.
Did this influence your selection process at all and if so, how?
SC: Yes. I
have always been very fond of the Breuer building
, and the uniquely tactile nature of its
surfaces. Several of the artists I’ve invited have responded similarly,
particularly those working in sound, like Sergei Tcherepnin, Pauline Oliveros
and Kevin Beasley. Their work will respond directly to the building and give it
a “voice.” I have also invited Radames “Juni” Figueroa to “tropicalize” the
Breuer building with a project in the sculpture court. He is based in Puerto
Rico and creates makeshift structures from available materials. I was
interested to contrast this kind of improvisatory “tropical architecture” with
the aims of Brutalist architecture like Breuer’s Whitney, and the genre’s
associations with socialism, cultural centers and frugal construction.
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
tempted to quote Etel Adnan: “Where do you want ghosts to reside?” But to be a
bit more pragmatic, “Art has become increasingly borderless, and this
exhibition examines the fault lines, morphing, shifting and celebrating
What is your most important “tool” as a curator and why?
What’s next for you?
SC: I am
very excited to dig into my new position at MoMA [as Chief Curator of Media and Performance Art] and have begun to develop
several exhibition, performance and publishing projects there in addition to
many new acquisitions.