From left, Artists Brendan Fernandes, Simone Leigh, and Todd Gray


THE ARTIST LIST for the 2019 Whitney Biennial was released Monday afternoon. The group includes 75 artists, a diverse group in terms of race, gender, experience, and discipline. Prominent names include Simone Leigh, Wangechi Mutu, Nicole Eisenman, Jeffrey Gibson, and Forensic Architecture, the UK collective shortlisted for the 2018 Turner Prize. Co-organized by Whitney curators Jane Panetta and Rujeko Hockley, the Whitney Biennial opens May 17 and runs through Sept. 22.

Up-and-coming figures account for the majority of the artists featured in the highly anticipated survey of contemporary art. Although there is a broad spectrum in age, ranging from late 20s to early 80s—75 percent of the participants are under 40 years old.

More than 30 biennial artists—about 40 percent of the participants—are black. The selection includes Mutu, Leigh, John Edmonds, Tomashi Jackson, Steffani Jemison, Carolyn Lazard, Joe Minter, Autumn Knight, Jennifer Packer, Paul Mpagi Sepuya, and Martine Syms.

The biennial artists are primarily based in the United States, with several splitting their time between U.S. and international cities. Five artists are African born.

Artists are contributing work that resonates with the current political, economic, social, and cultural climate.

“Although intentionally broad in scope, the exhibition explores key themes, including the mining of history in order to reimagine the present or future, a profound and sustained consideration of questions of equity along financial, racial, and sexual lines, a concern with climate change, and explorations of the vulnerability of the body,” Hockley said in a museum statement. “Artists in the exhibition are engaged with notions of what community means and can provide while using art to confront and cope with our current world.”

“Artists in the exhibition are engaged with notions of what community means and can provide while using art to confront and cope with our current world.” — Curator Rujeko Hockley

Barbara Hammer, a pioneering lesbian filmmaker is included in the biennial. Dying of cancer at age 79, she gave an “exit” interview to The New Yorker, a couple of days ago. Work by performance artist James Luna will also be featured in the exhibition. He died unexpectedly in March 2018.


From left, 2019 Whitney Biennial curators Rujeko Hockley and Jane Panetta. | Photograph by Scott Rudd, Courtesy Whitney Museum


OVER THE PAST YEAR, the curators said they conducted more than 300 studio visits as they considered artists whose work deserved a platform and was particularly relevant in the current moment. Works on view will span painting, drawing, sculpture, installation, photography, performance, film, video, and sound. The exhibition will be presented on fifth and sixth floors of the museum.

In the Whitney announcement, Panetta explained why the curators focused on emerging artists. “In part, this emphasis resulted from what we saw during our research across the U.S.,” she said. “We were struck by the profound difficulties of our current moment and the ways in which so many artists we encountered are struggling and facing fewer opportunities to present their work publicly.”

“We were struck by the profound difficulties of our current moment and the ways in which so many artists we encountered are struggling and facing fewer opportunities to present their work publicly.” — Jane Panetta

These challenges also influenced the mediums that will be showcased at the biennial, including film and performance. Live programming will be presented throughout the run of the biennial in the galleries, theater, various areas throughout the museum, and outdoor spaces surrounding the institution. The performances include dance, social engagement and critique. Greta Hartenstein, an independent curator who previously served as a senior curatorial assistant at the Whitney, is co-curating the performance program.

The 11 artists participating in the film program were selected by three guest curators: Maori Karmael Holmes, founder of the BlackStar Film Festival, an annual gathering featuring films by black people from around the world; artist and filmmaker Sky Hopinka, whose work was featured in the 2017 Whitney Biennial; and documentary filmmaker and producer Matt Wolf, whose recent film Bayard & Me (Sundance 2017), explores the life of Bayard Rustin, the civil rights activist who organized the 1963 March on Washington, they the lens of his gay partner.


BRENDAN FERNANDES, “The Master and Form,” 2018, Performance view, Graham Foundation, Chicago, Ill., 2018. | Image courtesy the artist and Monique Meloche Gallery, Chicago. Photograph by Brendan Leo Merea


AN INVITATION TO PARTICIPATE in the biennial is a major milestone for most artists. “It’s a huge deal, because it allows me to move forward in a greater way,” Brendan Fernandes, a former ballet dancer, told the New York Times. The Nairobi-born, Chicago-based artist creates dance-inspired performances and installations. For the biennial, he is revisiting a work called “The Master and Form,” a sculptural installation activated by ballet dancers.

“For me it is a social-political space, a piece that questions the agency of the body, the agency of the dancer and our labor,” Fernandes said.

“For me it is a social-political space, a piece that questions the agency of the body, the agency of the dancer and our labor.” — Artist Brendan Fernandes

Other black artists participating in the biennial are working in a variety of disciplines, including film, installation, photography, and painting. Among them:

    Chicago-born, Brooklyn-based Alexandra Bell won a 2018 Infinity Award from the International Center of Photography. Her Counternarrative series analyzes headlines and layouts on the front page of The New York Times and calls out bias and racism in its presentation of the news.

    New York-based Jennifer Packer focuses on figures and still lifes, expressive images that convey a sense of tenderness, reserve, and fragility. Last month, she showed new paintings at New York gallery Sikkema Jenkins.

    UK-born Pat Phillips lives and works in Louisiana. Exploring her life “as well as the experiences of others stuck between racial and social classes,” her paintings are currently on view in a solo show at Catinca Tabacaru in New York City.

    “Evolution of a Criminal” recounts Darius Clarke Monroe‘s personal story. Houston-born, Brooklyn-based Monroe robbed a bank at age 16. Up to that point, he was a relatively good kid. He served three years in prison and studied while he was incarcerated. When he was released and eventually enrolled in film school, he decided to make a candid film about his experience. Set in 1969, Monroe’s latest film “Black 14” is about a football team that protests a game against Brigham Young University over the racial exclusion policies of the Mormon Church. Spike Lee produced both projects.

    Sisters Lydela Nonó and Michel Nonó formed Las Nietas de Nonó to share stories about their community in Carolina, Puerto Rico. The pair uses theater, performance, interventions, and activism to convey their narratives and raise a broad range of socioeconomic issues. In 2018, the Nonós were US Artists Fellows and participated in the 10th Berlin Biennale.


From left, Artists Paul Mpagi Sepuya and Wangechi Mutu. | Lamark Dodd School of Art, University of Georgia; Wangechi Mutu. | Photo by Jennifer Trahan, Courtesy Lehmann Maupin

    Los Angeles-based Paul Mpagi Sepuya makes images that convey a sense of longing. The photographer had his first solo exhibition in Europe last fall. Presented at the Foam Museum in Amsterdam, “Double Exposure” featured work produced over the past three years. The museum described the complex aesthetic Sepuya develops: “Through a combination of draped fabric, careful framing and layered images of existing work, the viewer sees arms, thighs, torsos and hands, but rarely the whole body of the subject. In this way, the spectator is visually challenged to tease apart the construction of the image.”

    British artist and filmmaker Jenn Nkiru is based in London. Her most recent film is about Detroit and Berlin techno. Commissioned for the Frieze x Gucci ‘Second Summer of Love’ series, “Black to Techno” debuted at Frieze Los Angeles earlier this month.

    Fabric is central to the practice of Brooklyn-based artist Eric N. Mack. His site-specific textile installation is currently on view at the Brooklyn Museum, draped and suspended in response to the architecture of the institution’s Great Hall.

    Recognized for her ceramic works exploring black female subjectivity, Simone Leigh won the 2018 Hugo Boss Prize. When the biennial opens she will have a public art installation on view nearby, the inaugural commission for the High Line Plinth.


In 2017, the exhibition featured 12 African American artists, including Lyle Ashton Harris, Deana Lawson, Henry Taylor, and Pope.L, who won the biennial’s annual Bucksbaum Award, which includes a $100,000 grant and a solo show at the Whitney.

This year’s expansive slate of black artists includes formidable figures such as Leigh and Mutu, as well as many emerging artists with innovative practices.

“Jane and Ru have gathered an extraordinary group of artists to create a show that will feel extremely timely. Much of the work has an intensely personal and even a deliberately handmade quality, which will be amplified through a strong presence of live performance,” said Scott Rothkopf, senior deputy director and chief curator at the Whitney Museum. “In addition, the exhibition’s galleries will emphasize groupings of artists, rather than monographic installations, to create poetic—and at times pointed—conversations among their works.” CT


Participating black artists include:

Blitz Bazawule
Born 1982 in Accra, Ghana
Lives in New York, NY

Alexandra Bell
Born 1983 in Chicago, IL
Lives in Brooklyn, NY

Garrett Bradley
Born 1986 in New York, NY
Lives in New Orleans, LA

John Edmonds
Born 1989 in Washington, DC
Lives in Brooklyn, NY

Janiva Ellis
Born 1987 in Oakland, CA
Lives in Brooklyn, NY and Los Angeles, CA

Brendan Fernandes
Born 1979 in Nairobi, Kenya
Lives in Chicago, IL

Todd Gray
Born 1954 in Los Angeles, CA
Lives in Los Angeles, CA, and Akwidaa, Ghana

Ilana Harris-Babou
Born 1991 in Brooklyn, NY
Lives in Williamstown, MA, and Brooklyn, NY

Matthew Angelo Harrison
Born 1989 in Detroit, MI
Lives in Detroit, MI

Tomashi Jackson
Born 1980 in Houston, TX
Lives in New York, NY, and Cambridge, MA

Steffani Jemison
Born 1981 in Berkeley, CA
Lives in Brooklyn, NY

Autumn Knight
Born 1980 in Houston, TX
Lives in New York, NY

Carolyn Lazard
Born 1987 in Upland, CA
Lives in Philadelphia, PA

Simone Leigh
Born 1967 in Chicago, IL
Lives in Brooklyn, NY

Daniel Lind-Ramos
Born 1953 in Loíza, PR
Lives in Loíza, PR

Eric N. Mack
Born 1987 in Columbia, MD
Lives in New York, NY

Tiona Nekkia McClodden
Born 1981 in Blytheville, AR
Lives in Philadelphia, PA

Troy Michie
Born 1985 in El Paso, TX
Lives in Brooklyn, NY

Joe Minter
Born 1943 in Birmingham, AL
Lives in Birmingham, AL

Darius Clark Monroe
Born 1980 in Houston, TX
Lives in Brooklyn, NY

Marlon Mullen
Born 1963 in Richmond, CA
Lives in Rodeo, CA

Wangechi Mutu
Born 1972 in Nairobi, Kenya
Lives in Brooklyn, NY, and Nairobi, Kenya

Las Nietas de Nonó (Lydela Nonó and Michel Nonó)
Established 2011

    Lydela Nonó
    Born 1979 in San Juan, PR
    Lives in Carolina, PR

    Michel Nonó
    Born 1982 in San Juan, PR
    Lives in Carolina, PR

Jenn Nkiru
Born 1987 in London, United Kingdom
Lives in London, United Kingdom

Jennifer Packer
Born 1984 in Philadelphia, PA
Lives in New York, NY

Pat Phillips
Born 1987 in Lakenheath, United Kingdom
Lives in Pineville, LA

Walter Price
Born 1989 in Macon, GA
Lives in Brooklyn, NY

Paul Mpagi Sepuya
Born 1982 in San Bernardino, CA
Lives in Los Angeles, CA

Martine Syms
Born 1988 in Los Angeles, CA
Lives in Los Angeles, CA


SEE FULL LIST of participating artists


TOP IMAGE: From left, Brendan Fernandes. | Courtesy the Graham Foundation, Chicago. Photo by Milo Bosh via; Simone Leigh. | Photo by Paul Mpagi Sepuya; Todd Gray. | via National Portrait Gallery, London


“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. The 2019 Whitney Biennial catalog is forthcoming in June.


STEFFANI JEMISON, “Sensus Plenior,” 2017 (high-definition video, black-and-white, sound; 34:36 minutes). | Image courtesy the artist


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