The Simple Life

The art market is in love with glitz. Maybe that's why artists are having an affair with the humble

Frederick Charles for TIME

Cavalry, 2007 by artist Joe Bradley at the Whitney Museum in New York City..

Think of the most thankless jobs out there. Slaughterhouse cleaner. Involuntary drug tester. Russell Crowe's assistant. Here's one that's worse: curator of the Whitney Biennial. Every two years, the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City attempts a survey of current trends among American artists across the U.S. and based abroad. Every two years, or just about, the whole thing gets terrible reviews.

In some ways this is inevitable. Compared with art's history, which is largely sorted out, the present is always a mess, full of dwarf stars and bit players. Any of-the-moment show is guaranteed to bring those...

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