An Alaskan Art Critic at the Whitney

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whitney final

Today we recap a prestigious New York art exhibit from the perspective of an Alaskan. Townsquare 49 contributor and certified art critic Jean Bundy recently attended the Whitney Biennial art show in the big apple.

“So the Biennial, which has been around since 1973, is designed to show art of upcoming artists. They’re not all American, and they’re not all alive. But predominately they are American.”

The Whitney museum boasts the finest collection of 20th century American art, and calls their Biennial the country’s leading survey of modern art. Bundy says modern art can be daunting. Frankly, it’s often confusing, and a little weird. But Bundy has simple criteria she uses when viewing it.

David Robbins piece
A work by artist David Robbins on display at the Whitney Biennial.

“One of my professors from the University of Chicago always said ‘I want to see something that’s never been seen before. I want to be grabbed.’ So I kind of use that as my focal point. Show me something quirky, that’s never been seen before.”

And Bundy says there was plenty of quirky on display at the Whitney Biennial. Some less impressive than others.

“There was a tent hanging beneath weird chandeliers, there was old historic items like FDR’s clock. Why it’s an art piece, I don’t know. There was also George Bush senior’s wedding announcement from the New York Times. So there was a collection of odd things.”

Bundy takes about a half dozen trips to national galleries each year, and she likes to gauge where Alaskans stack up against the rest of country’s up and coming artists. According to Bundy, Alaska holds its own. But, she says according to many east coast critics, we are lagging.

“I think that maybe people think we are because we’re what I refer to as ‘at the end of the subway line.’ But I didn’t see anything at the Whitney Biennial that anyone in Alaska isn’t capable of doing or hasn’t done.”

Bundy emphasizes that many of our Alaska Native artists have consistently produced amazing works, and not just the traditional kind. She says some of the newer Alaska Native artists are getting Master Degrees at prestigious schools, coming back to Alaska, and pushing the envelope with their work.

“So they have this combination of Native heritage and European art history. And I think what’s coming up is phenomenal. There was a show last year by a guy named Singletary. Beautiful Native designs, but taking them to a different level with glass blowing, and etching them with sand. It’s really unique, and I think we’re going to see more of that.”

But in the end, Bundy says you don’t need a Master’s Degree to appreciate good art. You also don’t need to travel to New York.

“Art is everywhere. It’s on your Kellogg’s Corn Flakes; it’s on your clothing. Even if you don’t go to museums, it’s in your airport. It’s everywhere.”


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David Waldron began his radio career in 2000 as a volunteer DJ at UAA’s radio station KRUA 88.1, where he hosted a weekend music show. In 2004 he was hired as the station’s Music Director, and held the position until his graduation in 2007. After a few radio odd jobs, he was hired by Alaska Public Media in 2008 as an operator and audio engineer. He currently engineers the statewide programs Alaska News Nightly and Talk of Alaska for APRN, as well as KSKA's Hometown Alaska and Line One: Your Health Connection. He also hosts and produces AK, a weekly news program that airs at the end of Alaska News Nightly on Fridays. dwaldron (at) alaskapublic (dot) org | 907.550.8425 | About Dave