September 18, 2017


Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts

Photo: Ethan Browning.

How can art be special when it can be anything? In his book Love and Other Technologies, media theorist Dominic Pettman proposes we can understand ourselves—contemporary subjects clichéd by endless media feeds, borderless worlds, and ambivalent relativism—in terms of whateverbeing. As whateverbeings, we perform an existence without qualities, or with “qualities so interchangeable and obvious that they erase all identity.” Whateverbeing permits a sense of freedom, a liquid personhood through which we can recreate ourselves as desired in perpetuity. Yet whateverbeing also sentences us to a disconcerting genericism that can never be alleviated, despite our best attempts to become something, anything. This exhibition stakes a claim that Pettman’s whateverbeing finds an uncanny home in contemporary art, a field that contradictorily depends on art’s singular aura and the concept of freedom as a vacuum of infinite possibility. At a moment when universities, museums, and other institutions seek the disruption of art and the rebranding of it as creative entrepreneurship, perhaps we should admit that is difficult to cultivate love for a thing we cannot define.

Whateverbeing is curated by Owen Duffy, an art historian, curator, and writer living in New York. He has published in ArtReview, Art & Education, and Momus. He has been a visiting critic at Rhode Island School of Design and has presented his research at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam; and the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond. Duffy earned his PhD in art history from Virginia Commonwealth University.

Participating artists: Saulat Ajmal, Carolina Aranibar-Fernandez, Wesley Chavis, Sarah Coote, Eric Diehl, Mathew Gasparek, Devin Harclerode, Will Matheson, Beatrice Modisett, Jon Rehwoldt, Jake Reller with AC Wilson, Ricardo Ruiz, Kristen Sanders, Ryan Syrell, María Tinaut.

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