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Artists Among Us

Minisodes feature brief conversations about artworks and events in and around the Whitney. In these 5–10 minute episodes we explore top-of-mind art and ideas and what is happening now at the Museum. 

The series is ongoing.

Kambui Olujimi on Two Works Made in Quarantine
Minisode 9

Two works by artist Kambui Olujimi are currently on view in the exhibition Inheritance, open through February. Olujimi made Hart Island Crew and Your King Is on Fire in 2020 during lockdown and both paintings describe tumultuous moments familiar to us all. We sat down with Olujimi to hear more about these emotive works.

Released January 16, 2024


Kambui Olujimi, Hart Island Crew, 2020

Kambui Olujimi, Your King Is on Fire, 2020

Minisode: Kambui Olujimi on two works made in quarantine


Minisode: Kambui Olujimi on two works made in quarantine


Narrator: Welcome to Artists Among Us Minisodes from the Whitney Museum of American Art. Today we hear from artist Kambui Olujimi who has two paintings currently on view at the Whitney. His works, Your King Is on Fire and Hart Island Crew, are included in the exhibition Inheritance, up through February.

Kambui Olujimi: My name is Kambui Olujimi, I'm from Bed-Stuy Brooklyn. I'm an interdisciplinary artist and I like to make things. These paintings are part of a collection of works that I'm calling the Quarantine series, because I made them when I was in quarantine during the lockdown of 2020. Both Your King Is on Fire, the triptych, and Hart Island Crew.

Hart Island is this little island right across from Rikers and for a little more than a century we've been burying the unclaimed dead there. This painting is a horizontal painting that has six figures dressed in white hazmat suits moving coffins around in a mass grave. The grave is open and the landscape is kind of hilly. In the distance, there are a few figures that are silhouetted. Two have guns and two have a kind of cap that reads as a correctional or law enforcement hat. Then in the distance you can see the sun setting over the hill. 

So during the pandemic there were these refrigerated morgues that were mobile because New York City had so many fatalities. And so it made me start to think about all of the loss that we were going through and suffering through without having a real space to mourn or to grieve. People weren't allowed to gather. And so it led me to Hart Island because a lot of people were unclaimed. There was maybe not family, or family was in a place where they weren't reachable. And there's a place—pretty much everywhere there's a potter's field is what we call it—where you bury unclaimed dead.

And as I started to do some research on Hart Island, a lot of the labor that was done there was performed by incarcerated folks at Rikers. Over the years, the incarcerated were asked to absorb a lot of this grief. They're the only mourners for bodies that are buried there. So unclaimed dead from the AIDS epidemic, from just living in New York, from crack, from Covid, there are these waves of deaths that happen in any urban space. But in New York, and as a New Yorker in particular, this was my black hole. I feel some kind of way about New York. These are my folks that are unclaimed. And so it started to pick away at me or tap me on the shoulder a bunch.

A lot of the work that I was doing at the time was interior. I was in small spaces. I was thinking about small spaces, and this one is much more expansive. You can see the figures in the far distance, these silhouettes, ominous silhouettes, guards who are holding guns and forcing this process to happen or ensuring beyond choice that this process would happen. And the sky is a sunset, sort of romantic in a classic sense—a romantic sunset that is beautiful. When I was a kid, my mother was big on primary material. So we watched actual firsthand footage when my mother would talk to me and my siblings about history. And I remember being struck one time by footage from a concentration camp being liberated at the end of World War II. There were times when I was like, “but it's just so sunny.” It didn't seem like this could be a thing that could happen on such a beautiful day.

This painting is a tryptic titled Your King Is on Fire. It pictures a statue of King Leopold on fire. King Leopold was the king of Belgium. Belgium was a colonial power and colonized the Congo and did it most brutally. It's estimated that during this period up to fifteen million Congolese were murdered. There's not a lot globally in terms of the response for years around these actions. And it's only recently that it's beginning to be talked about in a wider context, a wider Western context. In Belgium, there have been protests around the sculptures of Leopold for some time. 

And so, while in America we were having conversations around Confederate monuments and their removal, you see that this is not just happening with regards to Lee and Christopher Columbus, but also Rhodes and Leopold. And so the lockdown really collapsed space in a way where these struggles that were happening here were having shock waves throughout the globe. And the statue in Antwerp was set on fire and eventually removed. 

There was a joy in seeing this sculpture removed for me. There's no way you could ask for redemption in light of these kinds of mutilations. And even as a young person, there's a doom that gets put on you. Because I'm not them, I'm not Belgium, I'm not Leopold, but we are human. And so as a kid, I was very much into space and the universe, and we can make all these artificial lines here on this planet, but you go anywhere in the universe, y'all all just humans. Just like I can talk about being from Brooklyn and how different that is from being from Queens and this and that. But I go to Senegal, I'm an American. I'm an American and they want to know why my country has gun violence on the level that it does. They want to know why my country…and I'm like, “they don't really listen to me like that.”

The further away from home you go, the more that home gets consolidated. And so that's a way of thinking of it now. But as a kid, I was just like, “we are all human and this is what humans be about,” and there's a doom to that. To see that there was a reconciliation, or at least steps towards that, or steps towards taking that myth of the monarch down or chipping away at it, and I mean this specific monarch, it was joyful. 

Narrator:  Artists Among Us Minisodes are produced at the Whitney Museum of American Art by Anne Byrd, Nora Gomez-Strauss, Sascha Peterfreund, Emma Quaytman, and Emily Stoller-Patterson.

Virginia Overton on Ruth Asawa
Minisode 8

"There's an urgency in her work. There's a rhythm that exists in her drawings and sculptures that I'm really attracted to as well." On the occasion of Ruth Asawa Through Line we chatted with Virginia Overton about what she finds so inspiring about Ruth Asawa's work. She speaks about two pieces: a print made from the body of a fish, and an ink drawing showing the cross-section of a redwood tree.

Released December 19, 2023


Minisode: Virginia Overton on Ruth Asawa


Narrator: Welcome to Artists Among Us Minisodes from the Whitney Museum of American Art. On the occasion of the exhibition Ruth Asawa Through Line, we sat down with artist Virginia Overton to hear about what she finds so interesting about Ruth Asawa’s work. Asawa is widely known for her wire sculptures but, in this exhibition, it’s her dreamy works on paper that take the spotlight. Overton speaks about three pieces. One is a print made from the body of a fish. The other two are ink drawings, one showing the cross-section of a redwood tree, and the other of the curly leaves of endive lettuce. Here is Overton on Asawa.

Virginia Overton: Gosh, I'm trying to remember when I first saw her work. It feels like such a part of art for me that I don't really remember when I first saw it in-person for sure. Of course, I'd seen it in books and publications prior to seeing it in-person. But part of what interests me is her dedication to process—a continued investigation, a very rigorous practice. Seemed like she was always doing something, making art, gardening, taking care of family, cooking. But it was always an integrated process for her, art making was part of life making.

So the fish print in the exhibition really intrigued me because twenty or thirty years ago, I made a fish print and it felt like there was a similar energy in her print and mine. Hers is obviously a print from a fresh whole fish that hasn't been scaled or fileted. Mine was actually a fish skeleton with the head still on, so it had been fileted. But in each case, it's like there's this immediacy of needing to get to print and there's no time to waste. And so the paper you see in her fish print is clearly rapidly gathered and taken to make this print rather than a very slow, steadied process. There's an urgency to it. And the fish print that I made was on a brown paper sack. It's all I had, and black porch paint. And so it was the combination of those two things that allowed me to get the print of this object— this fish—before it disintegrated back into the earth.

For Asawa I would imagine the pattern of the scales would be something she'd be very interested in. For me, it was like that too. But I was seeing the structure or the armature on which a fish is made essentially. So it's like a sculpture in that sense. There's an internal armature, and then these components that create the whole thing. 

Being a sculptor, I'm looking around at the world and everything is potential material. Human-made materials, organic materials, new things, old things, detritus. I mean, everything is a potential material or a potential way to investigate an idea sculpturally. So maybe it's a temporary material that's going to disintegrate, but it still has potential for being a sculpture. I think with Asawa's work, she captures these things at a certain a moment in time. 

So in this drawing, one of the things that struck me initially was whether it was a drawing of an actual slice of a tree or a drawing of the idea of a tree and what a tree is. And so looking at it, I could see it both ways. But it's interesting if it is the drawing of the idea of tree, it does such a succinct job of capturing that.

Asawa starts with a really small inner circle, and then she copies it over and over and over again until they fill the page so much that there's no more space to draw circles. And it was like she would draw until she couldn't draw anymore, until the end of the page ran out. I work with wood so much and seeing this drawing really evoked something emotional in me almost. I'm very familiar with and connected to all types of wood, and I remember seeing my first redwood in California when I was in my twenties. It was such a massive, massive tree, and it was just shocking to see something that was so old and still standing and still thriving.

So when I saw this drawing of Asawa's, the fact that it's 356 rings suggests quite an old tree, and then this convergence of her hand replicating that feeling of such age in a tree really captivated me. If you're capturing those rings at that moment, that's one snapshot. Or with a head of endive, it looks like that for a moment before it wilts. If you've picked it, and then it's sitting there, it has a certain look, but after some time, it will change and decay. So there's an urgency in her work. I mean, there's a rhythm that exists in her drawings and sculptures that I'm really attracted to as well. And I think that those mark living time in a way. So the drawings definitely feel like they record time. They definitely record her hand, pencil to paper, and I find that really intriguing.

That's the compulsion of being an artist is that you're always investigating, whether you're literally making art, physically drawing, or making a sculpture, or if you're just walking around in the world. All of these things become a sort of visual inventory that you can then draw from when you're making work.

In doing more research about her, I got really interested her, so I watched videos and looked at just everything I could find. There was one scene in one of the films that I watched where Buckminster Fuller comes over and they walk up to the front doors of her house and then you walk through her house and she's surrounded by her world, which is her family, her garden, her community, her art. I mean, just, it's all woven together like her sculptures are woven together.

Narrator: Artists Among Us Minisodes are produced at the Whitney Museum of American Art by Anne Byrd, Nora Gomez-Strauss, Sascha Peterfreund, Emma Quaytman, and Emily Stoller-Patterson. 

Sadie Barnette on Family Tree II
Minisode 7

Sadie Barnette joins us in the galleries to discuss her multimedia artwork Family Tree II, currently on view in Inheritance through February 2024. The piece is a holographic vinyl upholstered couch in front of a constellation of framed images. “It's really a self-portrait as a relational way of being,” she says, “who I am based on who I am from and who I am in relation to.”

Released December 8, 2023


Minisode: Sadie Barnette on Family Tree II


Sadie Barnette: I am Sadie Barnette, I'm from Oakland, California, and I am here in the Whitney galleries looking at my multimedia work called Family Tree II.

I'm really thinking about a living room, that one auntie who might have all of the family photos displayed in the home. And it very much feels like this salon wall from the living room. All of these works are hanging above a holographic vinyl upholstered couch. 

This piece is essentially a deconstructed family tree. So it's really built around these family names, which are the names of my family on my father's side. 

But it's really a self-portrait as a relational way of being, so who I am based on who I am from, and who I am in relation to. And at the same time, I wanted to use this rainbow order structure, to really make the piece feel like as if it's made up of a bunch of small things, it's one big thing unified together.

You have this kind of red and orange section on the left, with a spray paint text drawing, a photo of a fizzy pop, Hello Kitty soda, and a shiny candy-apple red can, a red birthday cake that says, "Happy Birthday, Malik," pizza, and this orange photo from the day in California when the wildfire smoke made it so that the sun didn't come up.

Then you kind of fade into these yellows with French fries and street signs, then into green and blue, and purple into pink. And really thinking about when you're in grade school, anytime I would be confronted with a pile of markers, the first thing I would do is put them in rainbow order, and just making everything feel like it was in the right place and the most beautiful order. It was almost like a compulsion to find this system to organize these colors. And so I'm really thinking about that kind of playful, but orderly, need to organize colors in that way.

The couch is—the shape of it to me feels kind of sixties, a little bit extra with this sweetheart shape to the back, and wings almost at the edges. It feels like a Cadillac of couches, if you will. It's got these buttons and piping all around it, which really creates a lot of reflective surfaces and opportunities for the holographic vinyl to do this rainbow effect.

It's always my hope that the more specific my work is, the more openings there actually are for other people to come in and relate to it. So I often think about my family as my audience, and I'm talking directly to my family. But because of that family relationship, other people from other families can come in and recognize that call and response that I'm having with my family, and see their own families in it.

There's one photograph that looks like it's from a wedding. There's this giant white floral arrangement in the background, and two adults kind of looking off into some other conversation that's happening outside of the frame. And then there's a little kid, maybe five or six, kind of staring right into the camera. Probably a little bit bored, because they're at this grownup function, and they don't know how long they're going to be there, and there's not a lot of entertainment for the kid. And I feel like so many people can see that moment and just relate to being that kid, to hanging out with your mom at the grocery store, and just feeling like time is standing still because it's boring. 

So there's weddings, there's birthday cakes. I was definitely thinking about the names on the cakes relating to the names in the drawings, and where I'm really elevating these family names into this important document of my lineage. Also, thinking about a birthday cake as a sort of casual nameplate. So there's, “Happy Birthday Malik,” or my name in pink on a birthday cake. What's more loving than when a family member writes your name on a saved plate of food in the refrigerator, or something like that?

No one moment is going to be the texture of a life and the complexities of all these interweaving lives and histories and moments. But maybe together, all these things start to inch a little bit closer towards a texture—an experience—some glimpse at what's at stake when you think about a family, and the arc of generations, and these huge ideas of history and family. To me it always comes back to these really small moments being a part of this bigger constellation. 

Ilana Savdie and Carmen Maria Machado on trickery, horror, and the uncanny
Minisode 6

On the occasion of her Whitney exhibition and as part of the Whitney's public programming, artist Ilana Savdie invited writer Carmen Maria Machado, author of Her Body and Other Parties and In the Dream House, to discuss their respective practices. In this excerpt from that program Savdie and Machdo discuss their overlapping interests, from power dynamics mediated through the body to trickery as a form of resistance. The conversation is moderated by Whitney Curator Marcela Guerrero and the exhibition Ilana Savdie: Radical Contractions is on view through November 5, 2023.

Released October 28, 2023

Ilana Savdie

Carmen Maria Machado


Minisode: Ilana Savdie and Carmen Maria Machado on trickery, horror, and the uncanny 


Narrator: Welcome to Artists Among Us minisodes from the Whitney Museum of American Art. The following recording is an abbreviated conversation from a public program that took place on July 24, 2023 at the Whitney between artist Ilana Savdie and writer Carmen Maria Machado. The talk was moderated by Whitney Curator Marcela Guerrero on the occasion of the exhibition Ilana Savdie: Radical Contractions. To view the artworks referenced in the discussion, please visit Savdie and Machado speak about a range of subjects including trickery, horror, and the uncanny—fitting topics for the month of October!—and how they wield them as forms of resistance.

Marcela Guerrero: So I thought that perhaps we could start with a pretty basic question that might be on the minds of everyone, which is: how did the two of you meet and what sparked this moment that we are living right now? 

Ilana Savdie: I had read In the Dream House and fell in love with it and was in the process of working on a series of three paintings for my last show. And I started reading “The Husband Stitch,” and there was a specific moment in that story—the main character gets what is called the "husband stitch" which is an additional stitch given to women against their will. There's a really horrific, very unsettling moment in the story where the doctor casually goes, “it is nice and tight, everyone is happy.” I was working on these paintings dealing with the kind of horror of being on an operating table or the horror of being in a performative state like that. And so the three paintings were titled after “The Husband Stitch,” one is called Nice and tight y todos felices—all three were titled after that piece. Yeah. So I think from there. 

Carmen Maria Machado: It was a story that I had heard from my aunt who was an OB/GYN nurse many many years ago. It was horrifying and it really stuck with me that husbands would make this joke when women were getting stitches after childbirth and they would say, “put an extra stitch in there to make it tighter.” And I was like, “well that’s the most horrifying thing I have ever heard in my entire life,” and she was like, “oh ya, they call it a husband stitch.” And I was like, “no, that’s the most horrifying thing that I have heard in my entire life.” 

The story is weird because—I call it my hit single. It is the story of mine that people have read the most and referenced the most. It was fascinating to see it have this sort of impact in various places. Then, of course, to see these phrases pulled out—unstitched if you will—from the story and used as colorful paintings that have these organic, unsettling, uncanny shapes in them. It was a really beautiful and interesting experience to see that transformation.

Guerrero: At what point did you feel, Ilana, that you wanted to delve and dig into aspects of the body? 

Savdie: I have always been drawn to things that delve into both the ideas around existence and having a body—the audacity of it, the offensiveness of having a body and the offensiveness of taking up space with it. A huge point of reference for me has been—I grew up in Colombia, which is home to the Carnival of Colombia. A four day event where four days before Lent the entire country basically comes to a Barranquilla and delves into this reversal, complete reversal of social norms and it’s a huge festivity. 

I have always been drawn to the Marimonda. This figure comes from the combination of a monkey and an elephant and behaves like a monkey. And has this trickster quality of being vulgar and perverse and offensive but also bringing the joy of the Carnival. I have always been drawn to it in terms of its uncanny qualities and phallic quality. But it also has this history I discovered upon researching it. It is part of a costume meant to mock an oppressive elite. It mocked politicians, the upper class.

The idea of the trickster as an agent of change has always been interesting and the idea of humor as a mode of resistance and as a mode of inversion has always been interesting. I root in a really Queer form of resistance through exaggerating the body—and mimicry as a form of transgression. And so I kind of locate that back into the work.

Guerrero: Another agent that makes an appearance are different parasites. If you have seen the show, you have seen the protagonist role that one specific parasite has in the show. Do you want to speak to that?

Savdie: I like to find parallels between the trickster and folklore and the trickster in nature. And the behaviors of the parasite are, by nature, very trickstery. The sort of body-snatcher aspect of entering into a host and forcing it to change. The parasite is an agent of change and that feels like a trickster quality. That was always interesting as a concept. Then looking into them visually, there are so many different kinds. I think something that these paintings have been able to do is seduce through color and texture and force the viewer to look at something that they may not want to look at—in this case a disgusting parasite. 

Savdie: There is a word in Spanish, empalagoso, which I think in English “cloying” is the closest. But it is this excess of sweetness and sugar to the point of disgust. I think that place before it gets to disgust is exactly what I seek in colors. For me, this work has become about modes of seduction and finding a way to draw you in to look at something that isn't quite as beautiful or pleasant as you might expect.

Guerrero: Can we also go back to something that you mentioned when you were talking about “The Husband Stitch”— I think I see in both of your works these bodies that are unresolved. They are excessive in some ways. How do you see your work as expanding discourses around the body? 

Machado: I am thinking about an essay I wrote a few years ago. I was interested in writing about the fat body and fatness. Eventually I began to think about fat bodies as volume and fatness as an expression of literally demanding more space and cleaving the air more than somebody who is less fat. And I was finding a lot of references. I had been reading the Shirley Jackson biography from a few years ago. There was this horrible line—the biography was wonderful—but in an interview the woman said she was so fat she took up half of the couch but so charming at parties that people hardly noticed. What if the fatness is a part of the expression of this artist and the person that existed in the world? To me those feel inextricable from each other. And bigness, excess, opulence—that is something to be embraced and revered and not feared and shied away from whether speaking about a piece of art or a piece of writing or a person's body. 

And I wrote “Eight Bites” and I was thinking about a woman who gets gastric bypass surgery, loses a bunch of weight, and then this ghost of the body that she lost is haunting her in her own home. And she beats it and at some point she tries to kill it. And it is really sad and horrible. When she dies years later the thing that comes to take her away is the body that she lost. I feel like there is, for me, something about the body that feels ungovernable. Capitalism resists it ya know. But it insists upon itself and demands things and I find that beautiful and interesting.

Savdie: I want to say something about “Eight Bites.” You had this one line: “I couldn't make my body…”

Machado: “I couldn't make eight bites work for my body, so I made my body work for eight bites.” 

Savdie: I think about that all the time. Sometimes your words come out of my mouth when I try to explain something. That is one of them. I come from Colombia which in general is one of the places with the most constricting beauty standards. There is a lot of talk about la cirugía, the surgery. “Just get the surgery. Put these little boundaries around your organs so that you can make sense in this space.” And I was like I am just going to make ten-foot paintings instead. It makes me want to make bigger paintings and take up more space. There are moments when we were talking about the audacity of my making these huge paintings and putting them in the Whitney. And how dare I! I have these moments of anxiety and stress about it. At the end of the day, it is the only way to understand. The paintings are made to the proportions of my own body. So I can use all of my joints to make them, as angry as that makes my joints. 

Machado: I feel like there is related discourse about who gets to write giant fat novels or books that are a million pages long. And I love the idea of something that becomes so big but you are demanding something because it is also so excellent.

Greil Marcus on Harry Smith's Anthology of American Folk Music
Minisode 5

On the occasion of Fragments of a Faith Forgotten: The Art of Harry Smith we spoke to Greil Marcus, acclaimed music author, journalist, and critic, about the reverberations felt around the world after the 1952 release of Harry Smith's highly influential multivolume Anthology of American Folk Music. "It was a sensibility—this set that Harry Smith created—that was passed on to people. Where it said to them, 'There's more in this music. There's more in this country than you ever imagined, so seek and ye shall find.'"

Released September 27, 2023

Greil Marcus 

Fragments of a Faith Forgotten: The Art of Harry Smith and an accompanying Anthology of American Folk Music playlist


Minisode: Greil Marcus on Harry Smith's Anthology of American Folk Music


Greil Marcus: My name is Greil Marcus. I've written books that take in Harry Smith's Anthology of American Folk Music, one called Invisible Republic that was later called The Old, Weird America. It's been a subject of fascination for me for more than fifty years.

Harry Smith was a man of many parts, many talents, many fields, many adventures. He was a folklorist. He collected commercially released recordings of American folk songs from the twenties, thirties, and forties.He did most of that collecting in Seattle and Berkeley, where he lived in the forties after the war—had a little apartment and scoured the Bay Area for records. He ended up with over 20,000 78s that he kept in a tiny little apartment that he later shipped to New York when he moved.

He wanted to put together a collection of the most interesting, the most gripping, and strange of all the recordings he'd collected that would paint a picture of the United States of America different from one people had ever seen before, through eighty-four records recorded between 1926 and 1934 and released by commercial record companies to sell to markets in the South, to sell to rural white people, to sell to Black people, blues records, string band music, records to sell to Cajun communities in Louisiana ...

This was a burgeoning market all through the twenties that was wiped out by the Great Depression. Records cost from fifty to seventy-five cents. You could feed a family for a week on seventy-five cents after 1929. Harry Smith, in a sense, drew a new map of America and some of the landmarks through the songs that he collected and that he presented in strange sequences that made sense at first only to him and later made sense to millions of people. There were presidential assassinations, there was the sinking of the Titanic, there was pestilence, there were famous train crashes. All kinds of things that were really part of the history of the United States, but sung by strange voices with words describing these shared events in ways that had never been heard before, whether they were sarcastic, whether they were sardonic, whether they were, in a sense, almost celebrating tragedies.

Harry Smith put this together to say to the country, to say to posterity, "There's more to America than you ever suspected. There are different kinds of people than those you've ever met. There are different kinds of people hiding inside people you have met. You don't really know this country, and I'm going to show it to you.”

I came across it in 1970 in a record store. I didn't know what it was. It looked interesting. I took it home. I began to play it. About ninety percent of it made no sense to me at all. It was just the strangest people and the strangest voices. I hadn't heard of anybody who was singing on these records. But there were two or three that struck me so hard, Bascom Lamar Lunsford's I Wish I Was A Mole In The Ground was the first. Who wants to be a mole in the ground? Why would you want to be a mole, the most loathsome and disgusting creature on earth? This is what I want to be. What is this about?

That opened the door. I think that would happen to anybody who comes across this production, this art statement, this remapping of America. There will be one or two songs amidst all the strange landscape that you will say, "Who is that? What's that? What's happening here? I have to know." It won't be the song that reached me. It will be something that reaches you that would never have reached me, so this is a polyglot of voices. This is a chorus of people who haven't met, singing in all different directions all at once.

This set, which was originally called just American Folk Music, was issued as three sets of double LPs, two LPs that were called "Ballads," many traditional songs going back to England and Scotland that had been changed in their journey to and through America. Many American-born songs, but they tell stories. Then, there was a two-LP set called "Social Music," which was religious music, dance music, community music, sermons, preaching, dances, minstrel skits. Then there was a two-LP set, called "Songs." These were the kinds of songs, whether they were blues, whether they were what were then called hillbilly songs, where people spoke in the first-person, where they said, "This happened to me, this is my story."

It changed music in the sixties because all kinds of musicians, or people who weren't yet musicians but later would become musicians, began to hear these songs. A musician's instinct when they hear a song that moves them, that strikes them, that makes them wonder what it is and how it works is to play it, is to play it for yourself to see if you can make it come out in your own voice and be different—become something that you can say, "I put this into the world too. This song is putting me into the world."

That happened with Bob Dylan, it happened with Jerry Garcia, and other people who ended up creating the Grateful Dead. It happened with hundreds of Greenwich Village folk singers and folk singers around the country. People learned these songs as if they were a Bible, and because it was like a Bible, they had to spread the word. It wasn't just that musicians then, in the 1960s and ever since, have taken these songs and sung them and recorded them and let other people hear them. It was a sensibility—this set that Harry Smith created—that was passed on to people. Where it said to them, "There's more in this music. There's more in this country than you ever imagined, so seek and ye shall find. Go out looking."

Jaune Quick-to-See Smith on her Whitney Retrospective
Minisode 4

"The maps that I've been doing, I see them as landscapes and they all tell stories." Hear from artist Jaune Quick-to-See Smith (b. 1940, citizen of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Nation) on the occasion of her Whitney retrospective, Jaune Quick-to-See Smith: Memory Map on view through August 13, 2023.

Released June 23, 2023


Minisode: Jaune Quick-to-See Smith on her Whitney Retrospective 


Jaune Quick-to-See Smith: Yes it is like that—fall down the stairs and land on my feet. That is how it is. I think I am a pretty lucky person, a lucky duck.

My name is an old family name. It doesn't have anything to do with art. It is not about seeing art it is about insight. I've been making art as far back as I can remember. When I was in the first grade I didn't know the word artist, I had never heard that word. I didn't know anything about it. I just knew that it was my zone—I wanted to be where I could use those materials.

The maps that I've been doing, I see them as landscapes and they all tell stories. My art practice has grown over the years. I always see my works as inhabited landscapes. From early pastel abstract swaths of color to where we are now, even figures, to me it is still landscape. 

We are in Corrales, New Mexico which is north of Albuquerque. Corrales is a small farm community of about 15,000 people. This land was given to Spanish people who grew vineyards here. It was given to them by the King of Spain they like to say but, of course, it is unceded land. And of course it once belonged to Pueblo people. Anytime people dig in their backyard here they dig up doubloons and tin cups and underneath that they dig up pottery shards and house foundations. So this has been a farm community probably for eons of time.

Native peoples have always studied the flora, fauna, and land here. It is a culmination of figuring out where we came from. All of the origin stories are about that. These stories go back 15,000 years and they match what the scientists are saying about the movement of glaciers. And that is extraordinary, it blows my mind to think that our oral history goes back that far. 

Our Indian elders studied it so well. Their knowledge of it is so complete. They are always looking back and asking what would the ancestors do? What would they say? We have to think about our future generations and if these resources will be here to serve them.  Will our tribe be able to support them? And so how can we get some of these messages out there? Part of it is in the work that I do.

Being Indigenous and making art means that you are looking at the world through lenses that are curved or changed by your upbringing and by your worldview as an Indigenous person. We get together and talk amongst ourselves about how we can change things or make things better—how we can put messages out there that have a relationship to the Indigenous world. Indigenous peoples believe that we live in harmony with all of the plants, animals, fishes, and cosmos. We really do believe that. So that's the first thing that is really distinct in our work and in what we present to the public.

Who has a better reason to paint a map? Me, a Native person who is all about the land and the history that's taken place here. How can I tell it all in a way that is different from what you learned in school? I'm showing you an American map; I'm putting my heritage in there. I take newspaper clippings and put them in every single state just to prove that there are Indians doing things there. Yes, there is Indian life there. Yes, they live everywhere all over the United States. When I started using text it seemed like a way to say something directly instead of just alluding to it—whether it be text from old Indian speeches or headlines from the New York Times or Albuquerque Journal.

What I am doing is putting messages inside the Museum, inside the corporate world where they are not supposed to be. It is where you are supposed to make nice and entertain people with money. That is kind of a given. And I am going to the source. They will find things about the environment, racism, and the treatment of animals. 

People walk through a museum and they are drawn to what they are drawn to whether it is color or figures. Some people stop and take the time to read things but not everyone wants to do that. The messages in my paintings are placed where they are not totally expected. 

Most people will never have heard of me and that is not off-putting. Maybe it will start to crack this issue of Native Americans being invisible. Most people say, "I've never met an Indian, I've never seen one before." That is pretty prominent. There are a bunch of Indians living in New York who encounter this. That is how it goes in this society. This is high society and it is white. And this is BIPOC here; we are just little grains of sand trying to make a little change.

I just move forward and do what I know how to do and what I am teaching myself to do because I am constantly learning new things. It is about growing no matter my age. Am I engaged with my practice? I would say I am right now and I take advantage of every opportunity to demonstrate that. But time is fleeting and we don't know where things will be ten years from now. So I don't concentrate on that; I just concentrate on making work that I think counts for something.

Queer History Walk
Minisode 3

The neighborhood that the Whitney now occupies once provided a place to find and create queer community. This minisode pays tribute to the sites where people seeking sexual freedom once gathered to connect, relax, party, and organize.

For more about the queer history of the Meatpacking District, check out the full audio tour

Released June 5, 2023

Camilo Godoy, Whitney Educator

Minisode: Queer History Walking Tour


Minisode: Queer History Walking Tour


Camilo Godoy: In this minisode of the Artists Among Us podcast, I'll be sharing a few highlights from the Whitney's queer history walk. The full tour is available as a Museum audio guide, and often on summer Friday evenings, you can take a guided tour in person too. Just check for dates and times.

Hello, my name is Camilo Godoy and I'm one of the Educators at the Whitney Museum of American Art. This queer history walk takes place near the Whitney Museum, located in Lenapehoking, the ancestral homeland of the Lenape. It’s close to the land that was a Lenape fishing and planting site called the Sapokanikan or tobacco field.

This queer history walk covers different sites that were important for the development of queer community. In this neighborhood, dominated by industrial life as well as the meatpacking industry, there were very few homes and very few people lived here.

Across the highway would have been Pier 52. Built in the early twentieth century, piers that stretched from downtown Manhattan to midtown Manhattan, during the period of the 1960s and 1970s, were left abandoned due to the financial crisis of New York City. These dilapidated infrastructures became the site for artists and queer people to make art, to live, to have sex, and enjoy themselves.

Underneath Miller's Expressway, trucks would be lined up and parked. The backs of the truck trailers would be left open for ventilation because during the day they transported meat across New York City. The truck trailers were used in the evenings by people seeking sexual contact. The act of cruising, or inviting a person into a sexual encounter, is described in the book written by Samuel Delany, The Motion of Light and Water. He describes his discovery of the trucks in the 1950s as both betraying the stereotype of gay people living in isolation, but rather engaging in collective public sex. In the darkness of this space, in anonymity, many people who were in the closet or not out would come to celebrate their sexual desires and the possibilities of sexual politics.

So as hundreds of people gathered in this neighborhood, different venues for sexual expression emerged in this period, such as the Mineshaft. Located on the corner of Washington Street and Little West 12th Street, the Mineshaft was an S&M private sex club started in 1976. It catered to a very specific segment of the gay community specifically in highlighting the culture known as the clone type, in which gay men wore boots, leather, jeans, and tight shirts to address their masculinity.

The Mineshaft—in the 1980s during the height of the AIDS crisis—became a site for sexual education and information. Unfortunately, with the homophobic health codes of this period, places like the Mineshaft were shut down in order for the city to control the spread of the HIV virus, impeding the dissemination of sexual education at this venue. 

The same year in which the Mineshaft was closed, Florent became a thriving food, party, and dance space for the community in this neighborhood. Opened in 1985 by the artist and French immigrant Florent Morellet, this 24-hour restaurant served food for the various communities of the neighborhood, from workers in the meatpacking industry to people leaving the sex clubs to people headed to the piers. 

The marquee signs at the top of the counter were used to address contemporary queer politics of the 1980s as well as his own lived experience as a person living with HIV. The menu included jokes related to war, political slogans, as well as Florent's T-cell count. Seeing the numbers 235 would indicate to patrons of the restaurant that Florent was not doing very well. Florent used his business to destigmatize people living with HIV and AIDS.

Just north is a building where a party called the Clit Club was hosted. Started in 1990, this party catered to a thriving queer community of women of color that saw the Clit Club as a party for celebration and for artmaking. On many of the monitors in the Clit Club, lesbian porn would have been presented and photographs by different artists displayed. In the basement of this building, a stairway led to a dark room where a pool table was located and sexual play took place. The Clit Club was a site for the celebration of queer women of color, but also the dissemination of AIDS activism in the early stages of the AIDS crisis.

The sites in this queer history walk are the closest to the Museum. However, we are in a neighborhood that holds the memory of many aspects of queer history, identity, and belonging. 

Paseo por la Historia Queer
Miniepisodio 3

El barrio que hoy ocupa el Whitney fue en su día un lugar de encuentro y creación de comunidad queer. Este miniepisodio rinde homenaje a los lugares donde las personas que buscaban la libertad sexual se reunían para relacionarse, relajarse, salir de fiesta y organizarse.

Para más información sobre la historia queer del Meatpacking District, consulte la audioguía completa

Publicado el 16 de junio de 2023

Camilo Godoy, Educador del Whitney


Miniepisodio: Paseo por la Historia Queer


Camilo Godoy: En este mini episodio del podcast, Artists Among Us [Artistas entre nosotres], resaltaré parte del recorrido de la historia queer cerca del museo Whitney. El recorrido completo está disponible como una audioguía del Museo, y en el verano, en ciertos viernes por la noche, puedes participar en un recorrido guiado en persona. Consulta para las fechas y horarios.

Hola, mi nombre es Camilo Godoy y soy uno de los educadores del museo Whitney de arte americano.

Estaremos caminando alrededor del museo Whitney que se encuentra en Lenapehoking, la tierra ancestral de los lenape. En este recorrido, vamos a cubrir sitios que fueron importantes para el desarrollo de la comunidad queer. 

Una gran parte de esta historia de la comunidad LGBT en Nueva York, tomó lugar cerca de donde estamos parados, en este barrio dominado por la vida industrial, por los pares marítimos, así como la industria de empacadores de carne. Había muy pocos hogares y muy poca gente vivía acá. 

Al otro lado de la carretera, estaba el muelle 52. Los muelles fueron construidos a principios del siglo, se extendían desde el bajo Manhattan hasta el mediado de la isla. Y durante los años 70 quedaron abandonados debido a la crisis financiera de la ciudad de Nueva York. Estas infraestructuras en ruinas se convirtieron en el sitio para que artistas y personas de la comunidad LGBT hicieran arte, vivieran, tuvieran sexo y se divirtieran.

La carretera elevada Miller’s Expressway fue derrumbada en los años 70, durante el colapso financiero de la economía. Camiones de la industria de las carnicerías estarían parqueados debajo de esta carretera. Las puertas traseras de estos camiones se dejaban abiertas en las noches para que se pudieran ventilar. En esta época, el estereotipo homofóbico designó que los hombres homosexuales vivían en la invisibilidad y aislados. Los camiones se convirtieron en un lugar donde el contacto sexual en público era posible. 

Mientras cientos de personas se reunían en este barrio para expresar sus deseos sexuales en público y en anonimato, diferentes establecimientos abrieron sus puertas para la expresión sexual, incluyendo el Mineshaft, ubicado en la esquina de Washington Street y Little West Twelfth Street. El Mineshaft era un club de sexo privado, de S&M, que representaba una forma muy particular para representar la identidad gay, específicamente el tipo de clone, una estética en la cual el hombre gay utilizaba botas, jeans, pantalones de cuero y camisas ajustadas para abordar su masculinidad. El Mineshaft fue cerrado durante la crisis del VIH/SIDA por códigos de salud homofóbicos que en este periodo cerraron muchos establecimientos homosexuales. Antes de su clausura, este club fue el lugar donde la educación sexual fue distribuida. 

El mismo año en que el Mineshaft cerró, Florent se convirtió en un lugar para la comida, la fiesta, el baile en este barrio. El artista francés inmigrante Florent Morellet abrió un restaurante de 24 horas para servir comida a las diferentes comunidades que utilizaban este barrio; desde trabajadores de la industria de las carnes a las personas que estaban saliendo de los clubs de sexo, que se estaban dirigiendo a los muelles. Los letreros en la parte superior del comedor largo fueron utilizados para abarcar temas políticos contemporáneos de los 80 y también para explicar su experiencia como una persona que estaba viviendo con VIH. El menú incluía el conteo de células-T de Florent. Florent utilizó su negocio para desestigmatizar a las personas que viven con VIH/SIDA.

A unos pasos del Florent está un edificio donde la fiesta Clit Club tomó lugar. Esta fiesta celebraba las identidades de las mujeres lesbianas de color. Dentro del club monitores de televisión presentaban porno lésbico y colgaban en las paredes fotografías de diferentes artistas. Las escaleras en el primer piso te llevaban al sótano del edificio donde había un cuarto oscuro con una mesa de billar y donde mucho del juego sexual tomaba lugar. Fotografías hechas por la artista documentan la pujante escena artística de las diferentes personas que hacían de esta fiesta. 

Los lugares en este recorrido, de la historia de la comunidad, son los más cercanos al museo. Sin embargo, estamos en un barrio que guarda la memoria de muchos aspectos de la historia, la identidad y la pertenencia de la comunidad LGBT.

Rose B. Simpson on Counterculture
Minisode 2

“They are watching, they show us, they embody, they personify the inanimate that our modern culture often forgets is constantly witnessing us.” In this minisode Rose B. Simpson discusses Counterculturefive watchful figures on view on the Whitney's Floor 5 terrace. 

This minisode is also included on the Whitney's Audio Guide

Released June 2, 2023

Rose B. Simpson


Minisode: Rose B. Simpson on Counterculture, 2022


Rose B. Simpson: My name is Rose B. Simpson, and I'm from Santa Clara Pueblo in Northern New Mexico, where I live and work on my ancestral homelands with my six-year-old daughter.

This iteration of Counterculture is five of the original twelve large-scale figurative pieces that are made to witness. They're made out of cast cement and they actually have handmade clay beads. And one of the most important features about these pieces is that they have eyes that are drilled all the way through the head. And so, they are standing as witnesses for the inanimate. They are watching, they show us, they embody, they personify the inanimate that our modern culture often forgets is constantly witnessing us.

It could be the natural world, it could be ancestral beings, it could be supernatural things. It could be the wind, it could be clouds, it could be weather, it could be the parts of our world that we don't necessarily consider conscious and aware of our movement and decisions as post-modern beings.

The holes that go through the heads where the eyes are, you might notice light coming through, you might see the wind pass through. I think that's an important thing. When I was drilling the holes through the head, the dust was blowing. As soon as the bit went through to the other side, the wind would come and the dust would blow out, and it was this incredible moment of allowing. I broke through to the other side, feeling almost inter-dimensionally.

You might notice fingerprints in the clay beads. You might notice relics of animal interaction with the pieces, maybe birds have found a place to perch or rest. We might see rust, we might see moss, we might see moments where the pieces have been in place and will grow in relationship to place and transform because of place. And I think we begin to notice how place begins to affect everything that we're trying to control. In a sense, we're in collaboration with and not in a controlling state of nature and our relationship to it.

I've been thinking a lot about empowerment. Empowerment in the past has always been very masculine centered for me, and I've looked towards a warrior mentality to feel empowered. And more recently, especially since becoming a parent, I have found a lot of power in the feminine or that which is self-aware and self-adorned, and that putting a necklace on or taking a moment to adorn oneself with grace is actually an incredible sense of empowerment.

And so, the necklaces are not warrior-making, but they're objects of empowerment and that they give a sense of self-respect and a moment of aesthetic consideration, which gives it a sense of power that I have been looking for in my life. And I look forward to transforming my power from aggression to grace.

I also think that the forms became sort of inherently feminine. And I think that most of my work is a self-portrait of sorts. As someone who is two-spirit or has always struggled with gender and trying to understand it, I feel like my story is best told from my own bodily experience. So I'm making myself in a sense, and this is how we empathize in the world, is when we see ourselves in something else. It's easy to see oneself in another person, maybe of the same gender or the same race or the same community, and can we push ourselves to begin empathizing with something that doesn't look like us, be it a person, a gender, or even something like a tree or a bird or an animal, or even weather patterns or something that's part of our natural world?

That capacity to build an empathetic response, I believe, is how we begin to build community and a relationship with things bigger than what we are taught to do.

When I'm in New York City, I think often about history. There's so many layers of experience, of life, of stories that exist in every single place. I mean, you see that so viscerally in the buildings that are actual layers and piles of stories. But I think about the history of the Indigenous peoples that once lived and had thousands of years of history in place, and also of all the plants and animals and landscape features that are now obscured and gone from this place.

There's also the trauma of communities of enslaved peoples, who were used to build this country and the infrastructure of the country that we now take for granted, that being enslaved African people, enslaved Chinese people, enslaved Indigenous people, and also the communities of migrants from different countries that have been exploited and abused. And I think a lot of those stories, when they're not honored or understood or haven't had the means to tell that story, they're still there. They're still questioning, they're still wondering what happened and they might still be watching. I think about that everywhere I go.

And so, these beings I think stand as a witness and as a voice and as a way to bring consciousness to the stories of the past and the beings of all kinds that have existed and have been from genocide to different types of traumatic extermination, even environmental catastrophe. And then to our daily life, I think about the birds that live in the city, the river that flows through. I think about the trees that have these little holes in the concrete and they reach up towards the sky trying to compete with these large buildings for sunlight. I think about their stories and how they maintain and still have this heart to be and how we're still in relationship and we forget we're in relationship when we navigate the world, like we're the ones in charge.

American Artist on Mother of All Demos III
Minisode 1

“The earliest computer interfaces always had blackness as a sort of basis of what could be done on a computer.” In this minisode American Artist considers the inception of the computer interface and asks how the origin story has shaped computation today. For whom were computers created? What purpose do they serve?

Released March 31, 2023

American Artist

American Artist, Mother of All Demos III, 2022. Dirt, monochome CRT monitor, computer parts, Linux operating system, subwoofer cable, wood, asphalt, 50 × 59 1/8 × 30 1/2 in. (127 × 150.2 × 77.5 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase with funds from the Painting & Sculpture Committee 2022.116. © American Artist


Minisode: American Artist on Mother of All Demos III


American Artist: So the earliest computer interfaces always had blackness as a basis of what could be done on a computer.

My name is American Artist. That is not the name I was born with. I changed my name in 2013. I grew up in Southern California, but I moved to New York around the time that I changed my name and I've been living here ever since. I'm an artist and an educator.

This work is a functional computer that is made out of dirt. It has this material of asphalt that's been poured onto it and it's dripping and sticky with this black material. And it's on this standard desk. What you see on the monitor of the computer is white text on a black interface.

The shape of the computer is modeled after the Apple II, which was the last commercial personal computer that used this all black interface. So the earliest computer interfaces always had blackness as a basis of what could be done on a computer. I wanted to make a computer that was really rooted in this moment where blackness served as the basis of what could be done in virtual space.

This work is called Mother of All Demos. The name is based off of an event that's pretty well known in the computer science field. This moment in 1969 when Doug Engelbart gave a first demonstration of this new computer interface that he had created alongside the use of a mouse and being able to click around.

Doug Engelbart worked for Stanford Research Institute and he led a lot of innovations around computer technology and interfacing and how they were networked. He pioneered a lot of ideas that were central to the development of Silicon Valley.

And in that moment across the industry, computers began to use this white background as the backdrop for a computer interface. Prior to that, all computer interfaces just used text based languages and you would just type code into a computer screen. When interfaces were text based, they always had this black background on them. 

And so whiteness pushed blackness aside as the original background of the interface to bring in this new era of computation. And in that moment it was said, blackness on the computer, it's bad for reading, it's not good for your eyes. And yet nowadays, we see a lot of that formal language of the black aesthetic coming back into computation. 

I was thinking about the beginnings of the computer interface and ways in which anti-Black racism had been present in the decisions around what an interface would look like. This piece is part of the series Black Gooey Universe. There's hand prints next to where the keyboard of the computer would be. It appears that someone has just used this computer and they've touched the sticky surface and gotten their hands covered in this black material.

This word gooey is a way of saying this acronym GUI, which means graphical user interface. And that is a type of interface where you have windows and folders, and a mouse and a cursor, and you can click around. And so the Black Gooey was really about thinking about what a computation rooted in Blackness could look like and what kind of material manifestations it might have.

It was a return to that moment, but also wanting to rethink all of the values that we associate with computing that things need to be fast or pristine or mimic an office space—wanting to question what that idea of use even means and for who. For who are these things productive? Is productivity the only desired outcome of a device like this?

I do imagine someone having just used this computer, not someone that actually exists. It's a speculative person for whom this looks like a very inviting computer. This is a type of computer that represents their values and understanding of computation. And what I was really trying to do was make something that for anyone entering the gallery this would look uninviting. 

I wanted to make something that felt dirty, sticky, things that you wouldn't necessarily want to touch, but then to show that someone actually is using this thing. And that was really about showing how much different computer technology could be if someone else had been in the room deciding what these different visual and formal design strategies would be.

And so if, let's say, a group of straight cis white men in the 1960s designed this office space device to mimic what they saw as a average way that someone might engage with information and visual information, what does it mean for that to then inform the way that everyone will engage with it from that point forward in perpetuity? 

This work very much does feel like a thought experiment because it's pulling together these different histories and trying to flip them on their head and get us to really question how we even relate to computer technology. So much of what I'm trying to do in art doesn't really feel like how most people think about art, but it feels like it's trying to do a lot more in terms of shifting culture, raising consciousness about different political issues, and trying to use these formal and visual strategies as much as possible to really embed all of these deep thoughts into a material object.

Mother of All Demos is providing an alternative that is not necessarily attempting to resolve an issue. It's just provoking. It's saying, what if this computer is almost not useful? What if use isn't the main goal or deliverable of this object? But rather, it's merely intent on expressing different ways to exist or communicate that fall outside of everything we understand a computer to be able to do.