More than 30 SAIC alumni and faculty participated in this year’s Whitney Biennial and Armory Show in New York City

The School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) was the talk of the town during New York’s busiest art week at the beginning of March. In total, 19 SAIC alumni and faculty showed work at the Armory Show, and a record number of 17 alumni and faculty were selected to participate in the Whitney Biennial—“the most important survey of the state of contemporary art in the United States.” 

This year’s Biennial was divided between three curators, Stuart Comer (Chief Curator of Media and Performance Art at MoMA), Anthony Elms (Associate Curator at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Philadelphia), and Michelle Grabner (artist and Professor in SAIC’s Painting and Drawing Department). Each curator oversaw one floor of the Whitney Museum, which is hosting its final Biennial in the historic Madison Avenue building before moving downtown.

Grabner’s pedagogical background helped shape her curatorial vision for the museum’s fourth floor, as she organized the works as a visual curriculum on “conceptual practices oriented toward criticality.” She says, “I developed a fourth-floor curriculum that presents identifiable themes, generalities even, that are currently established in the textures of contemporary aesthetic, political, and economic realities.”

These themes are teased out in Philip Hanson’s (MFA 1968) colorful, poetry-laced oil paintings; Sterling Ruby’s (BFA 2002) giant, shipwrecked ceramic ashtrays; Molly Zuckerman-Hartung’s (MFA 2007) subversive abstract paintings; and Tony Tasset’s (MFA 1985) offsite, multicolored monument to more than 300,000 modern and contemporary artists—located in Hudson River Park near the Whitney’s future home.

These alumni and faculty members are part of a roster that also includes: Elijah Burgher (MFA 2004), Gaylen GerberJoseph Grigely, Doug Ischar, Carol Jackson, Alex Jovanovich (BFA 2003), Stephen Lacy (MFA 2000), Diego Leclery (MFA 2007), Tony Lewis (MFA 2012), Rebecca Morris (MFA 1994), Joshua Mosley (BFA 1996, MFA 1998), Philip Vanderhyden, and Pedro Vélez (MFA 1999).

Between the Biennial and the Armory Show (as well as the Scope and Volta art shows, and a major alumni exhibition at the Elizabeth Foundation for the Arts), SAIC’s ubiquitous presence in New York this March truly showcased the school’s impact and influence on the contemporary art world.

Elijah Burgher, The Pattern of all patience 2, 2013–14. Acrylic on canvas drop cloth, 108 × 72 in. (274.3 × 182.9 cm). Collection of the artist, courtesy Western Exhibitions, ChicagoElijah Burgher (MFA 2004), The Pattern of all patience 1, 2013-14. Acrylic on canvas drop cloth, 108 × 72 in. (274.3 × 182.9 cm). Collection of the artist, courtesy Western Exhibitions, ChicagoGretchen Bender, People in Pain, 1988 (detail). Paint on heat-set vinyl and neon, 84 × 560 × 11 in. (213.4 × 1422.4 × 27.9 cm). Remade by Philip Vanderhyden, 2014. The Estate of Gretchen Bender. Photograph by Philip VanderhydenJoseph Grigely, The Gregory Battcock Archive,  2009-2014. Detail. Collection of the artist; courtesy Air de Paris, Paris. © Joseph GrigelyJoseph Grigely, The Gregory Battcock Archive,  2009–2014. Installation view. Collection of the artist; courtesy Air de Paris, Paris. © Joseph GrigelyForeground: Joseph Grigely, The Gregory Battcock Archive,  2009–2014. Collection of the artist; courtesy Air de Paris, Paris. © Joseph GrigelyPublic Collectors, Malachi RitscherPedro Velez (MFA 1999), partial view, #TheMonochromaticCriticsPhilip Hanson (MFA 1968), After great pain (Dickinson), 2013. Oil on canvas, 30 × 20 in. (76.2 × 50.8 cm). Collection of the artist; courtesy Corbett vs. Dempsey, Chicago. © Philip Hanson. Rebecca Morris, Untitled (#14-13), 2013, oil on canvas, 101 × 101 in. (256.5 × 256.5 cm). Collection of the artist, courtesy Corbett vs. Dempsey, Chicago, and Galerie Barbara Weiss, Berlin Sterling Ruby (BFA 2002), Basin Theology/Butterfly Wreck, 2013, Ceramic, 28 1/8 × 39 3/8 × 41 inches (71.4 × 100 × 104.1 cm). © Sterling Ruby. Tony Lewis (MFA 2012), peoplecol, 2013. Pencil, graphite powder and tape on paper, 84 × 60 in. Collection of the artist; courtesy the artist and Shane Campbell Gallery, ChicagoTony Tasset (MFA 1985), Artists Monument, 2014. Etched acrylic mounted on steel and wood. Collection of the artist; courtesy Kavi Gupta, Chicago

Press Highlights

“Start on the fourth floor, which is, by far, the most visually appealing—it’s practically buoyant. The curator here is Michelle Grabner, a painter and conceptual artist who teaches at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago…” — Peter Schjeldahl, The New Yorker, March 17, 2014

“If you want to get the most out of the 2014 Whitney Biennial, start on the fourth floor and spend most of your time there. This portion of the exhibition…was organized by the Chicago artist-gallerist Michelle Grabner, and includes the show’s visual and material high point.” — Jerry Saltz, Vulture, March 5, 2014

“If you want to go straight for frosting, head to Ms. Grabner’s installation on the fourth floor…. In an interview, Ms. Grabner said forthrightly that she did not take her primary mission to be the tracking down of young talent. She mostly chose artists in mid- or mid-late career, many of them women. Good idea.” — Holland Cotter, New York Times, March 6, 2014

“Grabner, an artist, curator, critic and professor at the School of the Art Institute—a figure so deeply influential and ubiquitous in the Chicago art scene and beyond that artist Tony Tasset puts her at ‘the dead center of the art world right now’…As one of three curators of the 77th edition of the Biennial…Grabner stands atop a career apex.” — Christopher Borrelli, Chicago Tribune, March 7, 2014

"Works by several biennial artists, including Sterling Ruby and Channa Horwitz, could be bought at Armory or Independent; the biennial catalogue’s acknowledgements section thanks dozens of galleries. Michelle Grabner, one of the three biennial curators, is herself a painter – her work is on sale at the Armory Show." — Jason Farago, The Guardian, March 7, 2014