Whitney Biennial Preview, from Curator Rujeko Hockley ’05

At the time she was interviewed for our feature “Behind the Scenes at the Museum,” Rujeko Hockley ’05 needed to stay mum about the artists featured in this year’s Biennial (opening May 17). We’re happy to be able to share some images now — and we’re even more excited that three College alumni are in the show!

We asked these creative Lions how their time at the College inspired their careers. Steffani Jemison ’03 says, “My video in the Biennial is rooted in areas of curiosity and connection that were supported by faculty and friends at Columbia. Courses in aesthetics, ethnomusicology, and literature (led by Steven Feld, Timothy Taylor, Aaron Fox, Farah Jasmine Griffin and other faculty) guided me in the study of how words and sound interact — a central subject of my video. Although I didn’t study art as an undergraduate, I first visited the nearby Studio Museum in Harlem as a student. My encounters there with the work of artists like Glenn Ligon profoundly influenced the way I think about language, history and imagination.”

Ragen Moss ’00 answered: “An aim of my work — including the work being shown in the Biennial — is to challenge sculpture to rethink itself toward spatial interiority. What this means is retooling sculpture’s history to point inward, to insides. I do this because I believe sculpture can teach us about interiority and why it is important to us as human beings. We are so used to walking our eyes across the surface of a work — a painting, photograph, film, and yes, also sculpture — and letting the artwork teach us from its outside, its crust or rind, that it’s hard to even notice that most art-looking is premised around this kind of surface-looking. The work in The Biennial challenges this premise and in doing so, I hope challenges the ways we’ve historically viewed art and also what we should expect from contemporary art.

“Columbia allowed me to study art history through the lens of ideas — not just images — and this I’ve carried with me into all the work that I do. Some of the most freeing rewiring of my mind happened at the College, a sort of permission to think across disciplines and with courage, and I’m grateful for that.”

Kyle Thurman ’09 says: “My time at the College, beginning with the Core Curriculum, established a dedication to interdisciplinary education that has continued long after graduation. While studying at Columbia, I took classes in the writing department, at the Architecture School, and in art history, film studies and visual arts, all of which have strongly informed my artistic practice, particularly the work in the Biennial.”

Their work is featured below:


Nicole Eisenman, The General, 2018. Bronze, stainless steel, paint, and cloth, 30 x 33 x 19 in.


Brendan Fernandes, The Master and Form, 2018. Performance view, Graham Foundation, Chicago, 2018. Image courtesy the artist and Monique Meloche Gallery, Chicago. Photograph by Brendan Leo Merea.


Steffani Jemison ’03, Sensus Plenior, 2017. High-definition video, black-and-white, sound; 34:36 min. Image courtesy the artist.


Keegan Monaghan, Incoming, 2016–17. Oil on canvas, 603/8 x 72 in. (153.4 x 182.9 cm). Collection of Ninah and Michael Lynne. Image courtesy the artist and James Fuentes Gallery, New York. Photograph by Jason Mandella.


Ragen Moss ’00, Consumptive Reader, 2nd degree (with Apple), 2017. Polyethylene and acrylic paint, 31 x 16 x 9 in. (78.7 x 40.6 x 22.9 cm). Image courtesy the artist. Photograph by Dario Lasagni.


Wangechi Mutu, Sentinel I, 2018. Paper pulp, wood glue, concrete, wood, glass beads, stone, rose quartz, gourd and jewelry, 87¾ x 17¾ x 22 in. (221 x 43.2 x 55.9 cm). Image courtesy the artist.

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Kyle Thurman ’09, Suggested Occupation 3, 2016. Charcoal and pastel on paper in artist’s frame. Sheet (sight): 405/8 × 435/8 in. (103.2 × 110.8 cm), Image (sight): 405/8 × 435/8 in. (103.2 × 110.8 cm). Collection of the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. Gift of Alex Glauber.