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Whitney catalog, 2 books in one!

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Originally uploaded by sokref1.

picture is a poster of a Zoe Strauss photo in the Whitney Biennial 2006 catalog

I’ve been going through my catalog of the Whitney Biennial. It’s a hefty soft-cover book with 394 pages and 99 fold-out posters, one for just about every artist or art collaborative included in the show. Like the exhibit, the book is difficult. On first blush, the posters, which for the most part have no names or attributions on them, don’t seem to coincide with the page they come before or after which caused me to scratch my head. Wouldn’t you think the fold out poster should coincide with what is on the page before it in the book?

Turns out the posters are a separate project, a book within a book. It’s a multi-tasking book!

Here’s the curator’s charge for the poster project which they named “Draw Me a Sheep” based on a passage from Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s 1943 book Le Petit Prince:

If you could crystallize the last two years in one image, one word, one piece of text, one object, what would it be?

The question doesn’t define “crystallize the last two years” so you get many artists who have put in images from their own ouervres. Sometimes that’s appropriate, as in the case of Zoe Strauss whose poster image is the one with the disabled vet with a crutch walking below the Marine recruiting billboard (see image at top), an image that reverberates with the larger world. But some of the images are just re-iterations of what the artist put in the show, kind of a narcissistic view of what the last two years meant. Anyway, the posters are not usable as posters because they’re embedded in the book. You would need to destroy the book to extract one and actually use it as a poster. In its level of difficult, tetchiness the catalog echoes the exhibit nicely.

Again, as with the show, I’m not saying I didn’t like it. I do, like both. The sense of multi-tasking impenetrability that both book and show have mirrors our world today. Interestingly, the catalog for the 2004 biennial mirrored that show too — its format was traditional (book) and it came with a box full of pleasing goodies like stickers and things, a kind of a arty marketing/promo piece for each artist.

I photographed 24 posters and have them in a flickr set.