Christopher Lew and Mia Locks to co-curate the 2017 Whitney Biennial
By Denise Chu
The Whitney Museum of American Art has appointed their very own Christopher Y. Lew and Mia Locks to curate the upcoming Whitney Biennial in 2017. By placing the project under the reins of the two young curators, the institution hopes to ensure an innovative and experimental approach to its signature series, whose mandate has been to present a “survey of the most recent developments in American art.”
The conception and organization of the exhibition will be supported by Scott Rothkopf—the Whitney’s deputy director for programs, as well as its chief curator—who will be leading a team of art professionals. In an email to ArtAsiaPacific, Lew remarked that the advisory team "has a deep knowledge of contemporary art, alongside other fields like film, fashion and critical theory." Lew, who has been overseeing the emerging artist program for the museum, attests to the institution’s “renewed focus on new art,” while adding that “this commitment to emerging artists has been part of the Whitney's program since the Breuer building opened in 1966. So we are not inventing a new exhibition strand, but, rather, keeping with our long standing dedication to living artists.”
This will be the first edition of the biennial to take place in its new, Renzo Piano-designed premises in downtown New York, which opened earlier this year in May. The new building boasts an additional 2,800 square meters of interior space compared to Whitney’s former home uptown, along with 1,200-square meters in outdoor exhibition area. Light-filled galleries, its very first theater space and sweeping views of the city and the Hudson River are just a few things the new Whitney has to offer. Lew also shared with AAP that he and Locks “will be looking to artists to learn how to fully utilize these spaces.”
The previous edition of the biennial in 2014 was met with its share of problems—one of which was New York-based artist collective YAMS withdrawing from the show in protest of Joe Scanlan’s project “Donelle Woolford” (2000– ), which they deemed racially insensitive. Lew and Locks will have to meet multi-directional, and often conflicting, demands of diversity, depth and rigor that audiences and critics have come to place on the show. Hopefully, a longer period of preparation should help: the museum decided to skip a year and mount the next edition in 2017, instead of 2016, so that the curators have sufficient time to acclimatize to the new building.
Lew, who is currently assistant curator at the Whitney, was previously associate curator at MoMA PS1 in New York. Locks also spent two years at the institution before joining the Whitney. Prior to MoMA PS1, she worked at the Museum of Contemporary Art Los Angeles. From 2004–06, Lew was managing editor at ArtAsiaPacific and remains a contributing editor for the magazine.
Denise Chu is managing editor at ArtAsiaPacific.