Monday, March 12, 2012

Forrest Bess at the Whitney Biennial

Though Forrest Bess died in 1977, he is represented in the 2012 Whitney Biennial by an entire gallery dedicated to his paintings, along with photographs and other documentation of his work and life.  So why is Besse, dead 35 years, given prominent representation in an exhibition that aims to survey art produced in the past two years?

In my experience of the Biennial from afar, Bess's inclusion is one of my favorite facets.  He is not officially included in the show.  Rather, the artist Robert Gober was invited to participate in the Biennial, and his response was, rather than show his own work, to curate an exhibition of Forrest Bess.  So it's an exhibition within an exhibition--a kind of Trojan horse maneuver by Gober.  Gober's curatorial act is his art.

Why do you think Gober wanted to showcase Bess?  Listen to his account.

Update: you might enjoy this clip from Antiques Roadshow featuring Forrest Bess!


  1. This is great. Gober is doing his best to give Bess the exhibition of his work that he always wanted, but never received. It seems to me that Bess's notes and writings have not had too much attention shown to them, and they were an important aspect of the artist's work, which intertwined with his personal life.

  2. I'm going to be honest and say that I didn't read this post thoroughly before actually going to the Biennial.

    But going into the Whitney without this context and viewing this work in isolation from the rest of the exhibitions made me upset. Because I thought they were just putting this dead man's life on display. Forrest Bess is an interesting person and I thought it was rude of them to feature his work without his permission, for how weird his work is. Like it was a circus show, to bring people in and and say, "look how weird this guy is!" Because his actual paintings I thought weren't very visually compelling. And they had all of these news paper clippings that just told about his life. And I deeply thought that it was a low blow for the Whitney to create this circus appearance for Bess.

    Now, with the context of knowing this information and finding out that he actually wanted his work featured this way makes me feel better about it. He wanted his life on display and Gober tried to do that for him.