More 2019 Whitney Biennial Highlights

Highlights from the 2019 Whitney Biennial.’ 

Part 2.

‘Christine Sun Kim.’

In my last piece about my overall 2019 Whitney Biennial Highlights I wrote specifically about the art I thought was most compelling framed in dark or walnut wooden frames. I also wrote about two paintings.

I left out the work of one artist in particular because I was not only working within thematic constraints but because I wanted to take the opportunity to highlight her artwork by itself and take a moment to reflect on it. Christine Sun Kim’s drawings from this year’s Biennial were all variations on a central theme – increasing levels of rage Sun Kim experiences as a disabled artist, across a plethora of social and professional situations. She titles them “Degrees of Deaf Rage,” and I thought, first and foremost, that they were incredible drawings. 

Really, what an ingenious starting point for a series – chart diagrams, each representing a greater, more severe degree – and as far as written artworks go, I believe Sun Kim is making an immensely charitable offer to her viewers. Her words are legible, her intentions clear, and she doesn’t offer a metaphorical or analytical way out of taking in her drawings for what they are. The viewer is responsible for whether or not they want to fixate in the shapes of her letters, the intensity of her mark-making, the charcoal smears, eraser marks, ghosts of the artist’s hand.

She does not obscure her words with drawing, nor does she go through great lengths to overwork any aspect of her drawings. They are not drawn on stark white paper – your eyes do not hurt when you glance at them. Their light maple frames don’t draw any attention, instead they compliment the large square dimensions of the pieces. Although they must be heavy, sturdy objects this doesn’t even cross the mind.

What is more Sun Kim’s drawings don’t really ask much of anything from the viewer. They present her thoughts and feelings succinctly and leave you to react to is as you see fit. I think that while it’s fine to criticize the overall aesthetic, it’s also clear that the drawings are essentially copies of one another with different titles and words. Then again, what of this is relevant anyway? The works meet, at the very least, the required aesthetic, and besides, artists must be given the agency to forego “meaning” for honesty, and while I don’t think Sun Kim is foregoing anything in order to give us both an aesthetic and introspective experience, I am glad for the kind of stark, focus pulling contrast she offered the 2019 Whitney Biennial. Her work was like encountering an island, an artist oasis amidst a mundane sea.■

— Juno Zago

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