Mitchell-Innes & Nash congratulates GCC, Leigh Ledare and Pope.L on their inclusion in the 2017 Whitney Biennial co-curated by Christopher Y. Lew and Mia Locks.
The formation of self and the individual’s place in a turbulent society are among the key themes reflected in the work of the artists selected for the 2017 Whitney Biennial. The exhibition includes sixty-three participants, ranging from emerging to well-established individuals and collectives working in painting, sculpture, drawing, installation, film and video, photography, activism, performance, music, and video game design.
Local police find fruit with spells
Metal, styrofoam, fiberglass, wood, latex paint, concrete pavers, faux rocks and other materials
120 by 156 by 168 in.
Installation view of the Whitney Biennial, The Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 2017
Photo: Bill Orcutt
16mm film (still)
Duration: 60:00 min.
Claim (Whitney Version)
Baloney, acrylic paint, photocopies, open bottle of MD 20/20 fortified wine, drywall, pushpins, frame, and graphite
Installation view of the Whitney Biennial, The Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 2017
Photo: Bill Orcutt
Christopher Y. Lew, Nancy and Fred Poses Associate Curator and co-curator of the 2017 Biennial, joins Pope.L to discuss his practice in context of contemporary art in America.
Mitchell-Innes & Nash congratulates Pope.L on receiving this year’s Bucksbaum Award.
Established in 2000 by longtime Whitney Museum of American Art trustee Melva Bucksbaum and her family, the Bucksbaum Award recognizes an artist included in the Whitney Biennial “who has previously produced a significant body of work, whose project for the Biennial is itself outstanding, and whose future artistic contribution promises to be lasting.”
The prevailing memory of the 2017 Whitney Biennial will likely be the outrage over Dana Schutz’s painting of Emmett Till, but it would be a shame if that overshadowed Pope.L’s strange, complicated, and typically irreverent 2017 work, Claim (Whitney Version). A large, pink-colored cube, the installation was festooned with pieces of bologna, as well as small photographic portraits of what the artist claimed were Jewish people. (“Fortified wine” was also used as a material.) The enigmatic work proves especially complex amidst the current resurgence of identity politics, and in June, it netted the artist the coveted Bucksbaum Award.
“The Bucksbaum Award recognizes extraordinary artists whose works are inventive, urgent, and promise to be enduring,” Mary E. Bucksbaum Scanlan—the daughter of the prize’s namesake, Melva Bucksbaum, who died in 2015—said in a statement. “I am proud that this tradition continues with the first Biennial in the Whitney’s downtown home by honoring Pope.L, a singular artist in a class of his own.”
The multidisciplinary artist Pope.L (also known as William Pope.L) has been named the recipient of the 2017 Bucksbaum Award, which recognizes an artist whose work was featured in the recent Whitney Biennial. Previous winners include Sarah Michelson and Zoe Leonard.
Leigh Ledare shot his 16mm film Vokzal (2016) in a square where the presence of three railway stations creates unusual patterns of foot traffic: neither linear, like that directed by sidewalks, nor ambling, as in a park, but combining multiple directions of strolling in an open space with multiple, specific destinations. Ledare would train his lens on particular pedestrians and follow them until they exited the range of his view...Like Ledare’s film, Pope.L’s work begins with surreptitious camerawork in public space, but the rigid ordering and smell of rotting lunchmeat suggest something less exploratory and more sinister.
Certainty is only a claim, like the title of another perplexing piece in the Biennial. A re-creation of an earlier installation at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia, “Claim (Whitney Version)” by the artist Pope.L, aka William Pope.L, is a grid of 2,755 slices of bologna, each one affixed with a photocopied image, a blurry face, and corresponding, in total, to a percentage of New York’s Jewish population. The artist’s “claim,” made in an accompanying text, may be “a bit off,” he concedes. Such claims are bologna.
The curators, Mia Locks and Christopher Lew, have laid out a daring exhibition that is representative of a broad swath of the population. At its center is Pope.L (aka William Pope.L)’s Claim (Whitney Version) (2017), a pink box on the outside slathered mint green on the inside. Pinned with 2,755 slices of bologna, each slice has a photocopy portrait of a person affixed to it. PopeL. claims the slices are consistent with a percentage of New York City’s 1,086,000 Jewish residents.
Conceptually, the luscious degradation and lingering stink points to anxieties about identity at the heart of the exhibition and indeed the greater culture in the United States.
Multimedia artist Pope.L’s installation, Claim (Whitney Version), features 2,755 slices of bologna pinned to its wall, and each slice bears a portrait of someone who is supposedly Jewish. The piece raises questions of collective identity and how people turn abstract when reduced to numbers. Within the structure is a typewritten statement, with copy-edit marks from the artists, that ponders whether the rotting, dripping bologna represents “the flesh returning back to world” or maybe the slices are “mourning a haunted order.”
Focusing primarily on solo presentations of artists, as in one artist per space, the show is well-curated with more than one canny juxtaposition (two personal favorites were Leigh Ledare’s 16 mm film Vokzal  of the public around three Moscow train stations with John Divola’s elegant “Abandoned Paintings” [2007–8] photos, which feature recuperated discarded student paintings in derelict domestic settings, and Henry Taylor’s big brushy paintings of black communities next to Deana Lawson’s elaborately staged, intimate portraits of black subjects).
Pope.L’s enormous room covered inside and out with a careful grid of embellished slices of baloney, embodies his usual sarcasm, even if the point about population breakdowns remains obscure.
Even before they enter the museum, visitors to the 2017 Whitney Biennial may spot, as they peer toward Renzo Piano’s industrial edifice from Gansevoort Street, a monumental object perched on the terrace. It has the form of a large melon, is inscribed with mystical markings, and sits at the center of a concrete circle like the statue in a traffic roundabout. A creation of the art collective GCC, it is inspired by an actual melon that appeared one day in the United Arab Emirates, where police destroyed it, documenting the process on social media, to neutralize its supposed occult force. Its reincarnation in one of the world’s most prestigious exhibitions suggests that state power couldn’t kill the magic.
For the Whitney Museum of American Art's first Biennial in its new home in the Meatpacking district, its curators chose quintessentially 2017 key themes: the formation of self and the individual's place in a turbulent society. As you might expect, traces of American political turmoil tinge much of the art.
All the while, the stomach-turning scent of Pope.L’s installation wafts across much of the floor. It includes almost 3000 slices of baloney, each imprinted with a portrait of “a purported Jewish person pasted at its center” and pinned to the inner and outer walls of a box-like environment. Within its chamber, a note typed by the artist in irregular font and scrawled over with a pen bemoans the racial and ethnic categorization of humans, “as if we are simply sets in a math problem.”
A film split into three 16 mm projections assembled randomly throughout a space, Vozkal captures the social interactions of hundreds of Russian citizens loitering, working in, or passing through a Moscow train station. What is so fascinating about the projections is that while you watch the citizens go about their days, they at first seem like they are free to do what they want. But a creeping sense of dread builds throughout the piece as you begin to notice perilous looking men lurking about, perhaps policing or spying on the area. It reminds the viewer that a modern society falls into chaos and fear quietly.
One of the senior figures here is Pope.L, the consistently discomfiting Chicago-based African-American artist whose fifth-floor installation, a kind of free-standing room, is adorned with a number of actual, fleshy, putrefying baloney slices, nailed to its walls in grid.
Leigh Ledare’s three film loops were made last year around Moscow train stations. In them, we see a possible ghost of America’s near future — people under autocratic rule, made numb, hailing from numerous social and racial strata, all barely interacting; the broken, homeless, and addicted existing but invisible alongside state workers, the wealthy, figures fighting, mothers helping their children go to the bathroom against walls. I saw a possible America in this almost animal society, its political house on fire.
There are 63 artists in the Whitney Biennial this time around, and while individual results may vary, some of my personal favorites would include Pope L's "Claim (Whitney Version)," a giant cube covered inside and out with meticulously-spaced slices of rotting bologna, each one of which is embedded with a bleary, photocopied portrait.
There are plenty of exciting works at the museum's marquee event.
Every Biennial contains a couple of did-you-see? popular hits. In 2017, the two are likely to be by Pope.L aka William Pope.L and Raúl de Nieves. “Claim (Whitney Version)” 2017, Pope.L’s large box room, is festooned on the outside with slices of real bologna dripping grease and arranged in a grid, mimicking round dots on a chart. The smell, surprisingly, isn’t unpleasant and the artist’s jibe at coldly translating flesh-and-blood beings into data spots registers immediately.
Among the 63 artists featured working in various media, are established artists like Americans Larry Bell and Dana Schutz, up-and-comers like Torey Thornton and Shara Hughes, and collectives like the Gulf-based GCC and the American trio Postcommodity.
The 2017 Whitney Biennial, the institution’s first since its move to the Meatpacking District, opens to the public later this week, but already the buzz is positive.
Written and signed by Pope.L himself, the text took on the absurd duty of explicating a work—titled Claim (Whitney Version), 2017—that is, among other things, about absurdity itself. The slices of bologna (2,755, to be exact) are said to correspond to a ratio relating to the number of Jewish citizens living in New York, and all the rest follows from that, from a methodical portrait-taking system to an ostensibly hyper-organized arrangement of objects in a grid with pencil lines to keep everything straight.
This spring visitors to the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City will be greeted by a huge orange melon looming over the sixth-floor terrace. The work—inspired by a mysterious fruit covered in occult writings that washed up on a Persian Gulf beach last fall—is by the international artist collective GCC. And it's a highlight of Whitney Biennial 2017, the major survey of new American art, opening March 17.
One of the show’s senior figures is the Chicago artist Pope.L — who facetiously called himself “the friendliest black artist in America,” and whose views on race and self are wildly unfixed. Here he reworks a 2014 installation in which hundreds of slices of bologna are fixed with small, hard-to-decipher photos. Mr. Pope.L suggests in an adjacent text that the photos represent Jewish people — but then again, the sitters may not be Jewish at all. Take the pungent bologna any way you like it. Ms. Locks put it this way: “I love the idea that it’s this perfect grid, this perfect system, with the most false, sloppy data points you’ve ever seen. Literally deteriorating.”
Pope.L and Mia Locks discuss "Americanismo" in the 57th issue of Mousse Magazine.