Getting into the Whitney Biennial
When my wife and I got into the Whitney Biennial in 2002, it was a turning point in my career. The Whitney Biennial is a show of mythic proportions. Besides the Venice Biennial, it is one of the most coveted shows for artists for several reasons. Besides its fame and notoriety and the overwhelming amount of press it usually gets, the Whitney Biennial is a show that attempts to bring together the best or most interesting works by American artists (and often international as well) that are living today. Which means that if you are a young artist in the Biennial, you will see your work hung next to others who are already major figures in the art world. Also, there is always an element of surprise about who gets in, and it is almost always controversial, which is always a big help when it comes to press! When the curator invited me and my wife to be in the Biennial, she said, “This is the story every artist wants to hear.” I am telling you this story because it tells the tale of how a relatively unknown artist who had no gallery representation or major shows got into the Biennial by asking.
On January 1, 2001, my son was born in a birthing center on Fourteenth Street in New York City. I was very happy about this, but also my perspective on the future changed instantly. Now instead of just paying the bills and wanting to get by, I had to think about the future, a savings account, my son’s education, and more. I had one great fear at the time. I was afraid that I was going to have to get a regular job, like teaching full-time, and that I would never make art again. The idea of spending most of my life doing something I hated was an awful thought. And for me, what added to this looming dark future was that I would be a model of compromise for my child. I would be showing him that you have to do something you do not like in order to pay the bills, and more directly, to pay for him! The thought of communicating that to a child, the idea that his parents are compromised because of him, was dreadful. What would that teach him in the end? Certainly not to follow your desires, but to pay your bills by taking a job that you do not like because your real passion is not financially feasible.
Within that first month of his birth, I made no art, which only increased my anxiety. I knew I had to do something, and what I wanted was to be in the Whitney Biennial. But before I explain what I did, let me explain briefly what I did to arrive in this position.
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