This year’s Whitney Biennial names 63 participating artists and collectives, but unless visitors also buy a copy of the exhibition catalogue, they will only be able to see works by 62 of them.
That’s because artist EJ Hill, known primarily for his arduous durational performance art, declined to show his work at the museum. Instead, he contributed only to the biennial’s official publication, where he is represented by a blank page of pink paper.
Striking in its simplicity, the pale pink page is strangely beautiful, a thin sliver of color visible in the book’s fore-edge when the pages are closed. But it’s undoubtedly an unorthodox response to an invitation to one of the contemporary art world’s most prestigious exhibitions—one that would be a major career milestone for any young artist.
Through his Los Angeles gallery, Commonwealth and Council, Hill declined to comment on the move, leaving the interpretation of the cryptic gesture up to the viewer. But the artist’s previous works may offer some clues.
For the 2018 “Made in L.A.” biennial at the Hammer Museum, Hill revisited six of the seven schools he had attended in the city and ran laps around them. He later installed a model track in the galleries and, for the entirety of the show, stood atop a podium-like sculpture in the galleries.
A statement from the museum said the work “reflects both the hardships that certain bodies are forced to endure and the enormous resilience of those bodies.”
The omission of Hill’s own body from the Whitney Biennial, and his refusal this time to endure physical hardship, also speaks volumes.
It could be read as a decision rooted in self care, and a natural progression from Hill’s recent solo show “Wherever We Will to Root,” which opened at Los Angeles’s Occidental College in February, and featured a series of six floral paintings.
This departure from physical performance was about “the work of care, a therapeutic mechanism for healing, rehabilitation, and even refusal,” according to the exhibition statement.
“No more wringing myself dry. Just flowers, and clouds, and puppies, and ribbons, and pink, and other sissy boy shit,” Hill wrote in a since-deleted Instagram post that was quoted by the .
The artist’s account now contains just one post, shared on April 7, of a plain pink square. It’s the same shade of “Millennial Pink,” which became ubiquitous over the past decade, as the catalogue contribution, and it, too, offers no caption or explanation.
“We admire EJ’s embrace of opacity and his questioning of what representation means at this historical moment,” David Breslin and Adrianne Edwards, the exhibition’s co-curators, told Artnet News in an email.
Hill’s pink page has a soothing aura about it, seemingly offering readers a moment to rest. Perhaps it also offered Hill a moment to recharge his creative energies for his next artistic endeavor—and it looks like a return to performance is on the horizon, with a solo show featuring an installation with a performance stage opening at MASS MoCA in the fall.