The Whitney Biennial has spurned two of its more unsavory corporate sponsors: auction house Sotheby’s, citing its aggressive anti-union stance toward its New York-based art handlers at a time of record profits; and Deutsche Bank, for its alleged role in causing the subprime mortgage crisis. With this populist swerve away from the Brobdingnagian excesses of the art market, the Whitney makes a timely political gesture, despite falling short of that called for by the Arts & Labor division of the Occupy Wall Street movement—to end the Biennial in 2014, its centennial year. More interesting than its political implications, however, is the possibility of viewing the refusal of sponsorship as an artistic element within the Biennial itself, as the acclaimed museum’s Institutional Critique of the venerable auction house. This is not quite a novel critical development—artists such as Carey Young, for example, have noted the tendency of the institution of the museum, embodied in its curators and directors, to initiate such critical discourses—yet the Whitney case is unique insofar as it vividly…. Oops, the Whitney story is a fake! OWS hackers, apparently … Nevertheless, by drawing our attention to the plight of the Sotheby’s art handlers, the exploitation of artists by the secondary art market, and the ways in which pirate corporations whitewash their public image through culture industry handouts, OWS can be regarded as having ushered in a new era of relational aesthetics. Bourriaud’s initial conception of relational art was widely criticized for giving up on the utopian aspirations of the historical avant-garde; but with its Whitney piece OWS seeds a coherent vision of a happier tomorrow as a sort of Archimedean point from which the very investigation of art world relations draws its normative force. From a vision of what ought to be, OWS reveals the squalor of what is.


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