The famed Whitney Biennial
exhibition, the longest-running survey of American art, this year
includes a piece by University of Delaware Master of Fine Arts (MFA)
student Justin Coleman, who uses the name JSTN CLMN in his work.
The Whitney Museum of American Art in Manhattan opened its 78th
Biennial on March 17. This year’s show, which runs until June 11,
focuses on racial tensions, economic inequities and polarizing politics
via installations that take a multitude of forms, from painting and
installation to activism and videogame design.
On display are works from 63 individuals and collectives.
Coleman’s work is included in an exhibition by the Occupy Museums
collective, as part of its “Debtfair” project, which the group describes
as “a means of exposing the hidden layer of debt within the art market
and its institutions.”
Of the more than 500 artists who submitted work to Occupy Museums, JSTN CLMN was one of 30 selected to have a piece in the show.
“I have a ceramic plate that has an image of my teeth on it,” he said of his contribution. “It’s a self-portrait of sorts.”
In 2012, Occupy Museums, along with 17 other groups, called for an
end to the Whitney Biennial. In an open letter, they stated, “The
Biennial perpetuates the myth that art functions like other professional
careers and that selection and participation in the exhibition, for
which artists themselves are not compensated, will secure a sustainable
Now, Occupy Museums has a spot in this year’s show. The purpose of
the group’s collection, Coleman said, is “to create exposure to working
artists that are an integral part and structure [of] the contemporary
arts community and its institutions who are living with debt and are
facing immediate realities that affect their lives and them as artists.”
Calling the financial situation a very real problem for many artists,
Coleman said that being part of the high-profile Biennial gives Occupy
Museums a wide audience.
“By displaying (or exposing) these artists' work in the structure of
the white walls of the institution itself, [we are] highlighting how
debt can be an oppressive force,” he said.
“Debtfair” gives artists a greater platform not only to display their
art, but also to protest the financial burdens they undertake to create
art, he said.
MFA students gain international exposure
Coleman and other second-year MFA students visited Berlin last month to install a one-week exhibition of their work, titled “Humanifold,” at the gallery Kunstraum Tapir.
Accompanied by Abby Donovan, professor of art and design,
the students also explored the city’s contemporary arts community. In
addition to visiting numerous museums, galleries and private
collections, the group made personal studio visits to seven Berlin
artists and had conversations with art directors, curators and writers.
“It was a spectacular experience, like an academic conference but on a
much more intimate scale with a public transit adventure between each
panel or lecture,” Coleman said.
Article by Anne Grae Martin