Described by Holland Cotter as a triple layer cake with too much icing, this year’s Whitney Biennial (the last to be presented at the museum’s Madison Avenue address) offers three curatorial perspectives: Stuart Comer (Chief Curator, Media and Performance Art, MoMA), Anthony Elms (Associate Curator, Institute of Contemporary Art, Philadelphia), and Michelle Grabner (artist and Professor, School of the Art Institute, Chicago).
By turns über-inclusive, messy, whimsical, minimalist, maximalist, profound, inane and poetic, the exhibition is the usual overwhelming jumble of competing multi-media installations and quiet creative gestures by artists with a range of experience and exposure. This latest edition reveals a bent for collectives, partnerships and hybrids, literary genius (David Foster Wallace) and preserving cultural archives (Public Collectors).
An artist herself, Grabner selected more than half of the Biennial participants, gravitating toward the materials and process in big, bright works such as Joel Otterson’s reconfigured readymade habitat and an enormous cascading textile column by artist Sheila Hicks. Elms, also an artist curator, exhibits an omnivorous appetite in his selection of My Barbarian (children of the second-wave feminist generation who stage Berthold Brecht’s The Mother in the lobby gallery), Zoe Leonard, whose minimalist camera obscura inverts a life-sized image of the city inside the building, and the silent sound art of Terry Adkins. A recent Tate Modern transplant, Comer expresses an interest in mobility and migration, and in art and artifacts that document the analogue-to-digital arch in creative production. Best of all, Comer chose an intimate documentary project—the love story of transgendered artists Zackary Drucker and Rhys Ernst—that sparks a fresh conversation about contemporary identity politics.
Now, go see the exhibition yourself and tell us what you think!