A History of Violence: Jordan Wolfson on His Shocking Foray into VR at the Whitney Biennial

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A cataloguing of violence in art might begin with Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s teeming battle scene, The Triumph of Death, and continue on to Caravaggio’s Grand Guignol Judith Beheading Holofernes. From there, you see Peter Paul Rubens’s Massacre of the Innocents, Nicolas Poussin’s Abduction of the Sabine Women, Francisco Goya’s ravenous Saturn Devouring His Son, George Bellows’s ringside views of bloody boxing matches, Pablo Picasso’s Guernica, Leon Golub’s napalm victims, and Jake and Dinos Chapman’s apocalypse in miniature, Hell. The latest entry might be Jordan Wolfson’s Real Violence, which debuts at the Whitney Biennial on March 17. In January, Wolfson had me over to his New York apartment to see this new virtual reality work, in which the artist beats a man repeatedly with a baseball bat.

“One of the problematic things with a medium like VR is that through its nature, people call it an experience,” Wolfson said.

He was sitting on a couch in his apartment, wearing a Vetements hoodie with “Sexual Fantasies” written across the chest.

“An experience means that something is hypothetically interactive,” he said. “And I don’t think that interactive things make for good art.”

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