FOR HIS CONTRIBUTION to the 2017 Whitney Biennial, Pope.L utilized processed lunch meat and found photography to raise issues of representation and the pitfalls of population counting and “baloney” that can be embedded in its “accuracy” and use. Always thought-provoking, the multidisciplinary artist’s clever approach has been duly recognized.

The Whitney Museum of American Art announced Pope.L is the recipient of the 2017 Bucksbaum Award. Each year the biennial is presented, the honor is given to the participating artist “whose work demonstrates a singular combination of talent and imagination” and has “the potential to make a lasting impact on the history of American art, based on the excellence of past work as well as present work in the biennial.”

A large boxed-shaped room painted pink on the outside and mint green on the interior, Pope.L’s “Claim (Whitney Version)” is defined by a precise grid of more than 2,700 slices of bologna lining the walls inside and out. The lunch meat is paired with tiny black-and-white portraits and held in place with push pins.

According to the Whitney’s exhibition label, Pope.L’s work “plays with our tendency to project ourselves onto numbers and stokes our awareness that such counting often lays the groundwork for systematic acts of discrimination. The anxiety provoked by the work’s calculated absurdity questions the power of ‘big data,’ raising the specter of its use for nefarious ends—from controlling whose votes are valuable, to who can enter and leave the country freely.”


TOP IMAGE: Installation view of Pope.L aka William Pope.L, “Claim (Whitney Version),” 2017. Whitney Biennial 2017, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, March 17-June 11, 2017. | Collection of the artist; courtesy Mitchell-Innes & Nash, New York. Photo by Matthew Carasella


POPE.L aka William Pope.L, Detail of “Claim (Whitney Version),” 2017, installed at 2017 Whitney Biennial (acrylic paint, graphite pencil, pushpins, wood, framed document, fortified wine and bologna with black-and-white portraits). | Collection of the artist; courtesy Mitchell-Innes & Nash, N.Y, Photo by Victoria L. Valentine


BORN IN NEWARK, N.J., Pope.L lives and works in Chicago. After studying at Pratt Institute, he later received an undergraduate degree from Montclair State College. He also attended the Whitney museum’s Independent Study Program before earning an MFA from Rutgers University in 1981.

Recognized for his pioneering contributions to performance and body art and interventionist approach to public art, Pope.L’s practice also encompasses painting, drawing, sculpture, video, and theater. An artist and educator, his bio states that the goals for his work are “joy, earn more money and uncertainty— not necessarily in that order.”

A jury selected Pope.L from among the 63 artists and collectives participating in the 2017 biennial. The jury included Adam D. Weinberg, director of the Whitney Museum of American Art; Curator Naomi Beckwith of MCA Chicago; Curator Johanna Burton of the New Museum; Mary Ceruti, the Sculpture Center’s executive director and chief curator; Co-curator of Whitney Biennial 2017 Christopher Y. Lew and Mia Locks; and Scott Rothkopf, the Whitney Museum’s chief curator and deputy director for programs.

“For almost four decades, Pope.L has challenged us to confront some of the most pressing questions about American society as well as about the very nature of art. We are thrilled that he is joining the illustrious group of American artists whom we have honored with The Bucksbaum Award,” said Weinberg.

“For almost four decades, Pope.L has challenged us to confront some of the most pressing questions about American society as well as about the very nature of art.” — Adam Weinberg, Director of Whitney Museum

The Bucksbaum Award includes a $100,000 grant and an invitation to mount an exhibition at the Whitney. Pope.L’s achievement will be celebrated at a fall event.

In addition to the Whitney Biennial, which is on view through June 11, the artist’s solo exhibition “Pope.L: Proto-Skin Set” is being presented at Mitchell-Innes & Nash in New York through June 30.

Pope.L’s work currently appears in the group shows “Black Pulp!” (June 10-July 22, 2017) at the University of South Floria Contemporary Art Museum, and “Invisible Man” (May 3-June 24, 2017) at Martos Gallery in New York. He is also included in Documenta 14 (June 10-Sept. 17, 2017) in Kassel, Germany, and Athens, Greece. CT


IMAGE: Above left, Pope.L at MOCA Gala, May 30, 2015, Los Angeles | Frazer Harrison, Getty Images


FIND MORE About “Pope.L: Instigation, Aspiration, Perspiration,” a trio of complementary exhibitions in New York City organized by the artist in collaboration with the Public Art Fund, Whitney Museum of American Art, and Museum of Modern Art, from 2019-20

UPDATED (12/28/23): To include a website created after this post published to highlight a trio of exhibitions dedicated to the work of Pope.L in New York City


Pope.L was featured in the group exhibition “Radical Presence: Black Performance in Contemporary Art,” which was billed as the first comprehensive survey of performance art by black visual artists. He appears on the cover of the accompanying catalog performing “Eating the Wall Street Journal” (2000) at the Sculpture Center on Long Island, New York. “Whitney Biennial 2017” coincides with the Whitney Museum of American Art’s biennial, the first in its new Meatpacking District building. Pope.L is among a dozen African American artists selected to participate, including Kevin Jerome Everson, Lyle Ashton Harris, Deana Lawson, Cameron Rowland, Cauleen Smith, Maya Stovall, Henry Taylor, and Kamasi Washington.


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