Inside the Whitney Houston Biennial: Brooklyn’s Witty, All-Female Alternative to the Whitney Biennial

There were many alternatives to the Whitney Biennial this week, but the most lauded would have to be the one with the most enigmatic name: The Whitney Houston Biennial: I’m Every Woman. Curated by artist Christine Finley, this show was exactly what it sounds like: an all-female-artist alternative to the established Whitney Biennial. Since so much of the art world is a boy’s club, it seems especially necessary — and exciting — to have a separate space where female artists are celebrated.

The atmosphere of the show, held in DUMBO, promoted intimacy and interaction with both the work and the artists. Paintings, sculptures, videos, photos, and every medium in between decorated the walls, floor to ceiling, in a salon-style layout. Among the works featured were some of Finley’s own, including a reimagined drawing of the classic Pieta, reflecting her time spent in Rome. Explaining her reasons for creating this show, Finley said, “I saw a lot of press about the Biennial happening and I thought, if I were the curator what would I do? Well, I would have an all-women’s Biennial. [Eddy Segal] thought of the name, and we laughed our heads off and I just knew I had to do that.”

Still from Narcissister's "I'm Every Woman"
Still from Narcissister’s “I’m Every Woman”

There was so much to take in that I couldn’t pick a favorite, but there were a few especially striking pieces. Ever the center of attention, performance/video artist Narcissister contributed the video I’m Every Woman, which might just encapsulate all this show was about. Wearing an Afro wig and her signature mannequin mask, the artist dances around on a revolving table lit by cheesy disco lights while Whitney Houston’s “I’m Every Woman” plays. During this performance, Narcissister pulls clothing out from various bodily orifices and models it. Narcissister’s work frequently uses uncomfortable humor to examine what it is to be a woman constantly on display.