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Whitney Biennial - 'The Tangled Web of 21st Century American Culture'

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The large, printed statement in the Whitney Museum's lobby is all you need; Fifty-one artist statements encompassed by one mission. “The 2012 biennial is meant to encourage a thoughtful consideration of these issues of time, place, and experience, an immersion in the ‘here and now.’” As museumgoers work their way through four floors of genre-spanning art, it is clear the biennial’s statement of the here and now transcends through painting, sculpture, poetry, experimental mediums, and dance. The opening statement encourages viewers to prick up their senses and tune in to political, economic, and technological change while emphasizing subjective identity that is a daily human struggle.

Charles Atlas (b. 1949). Still from Turning (live mix) with Antony and the Johnsons, 2004. Image courtesy the artist and Vilma Gold, London

Charles Atlas (b. 1949). Still from Turning (live mix) with Antony and the Johnsons, 2004. Image courtesy the artist and Vilma Gold, London

A highly subjective piece, Oscar Tuazone’s “For Hire,” is the only installation on the lobby floor. As the first work that Biennial attendees see, “For Hire,” a “sculpture without definition,” allows imagination to take form; guests can explore the bare bones of a small two-story structure. Attendees can pass through intricately designed doors, which give the piece a sense of home, breaking the boundaries of art and viewer and letting participants’ own projections of the space take precedence. The Whitney strategically encourages this mentality in viewers for their entire Biennial experience, further capitalizing on the importance of subjectivity in art.

While all four floors inspire awe and respect for numerous art mediums, certain exhibits dig deep and encourage an extra glance.

As part of the Nomadic Studio Experiment, Los Angeles-based Dawn Kasper has transported her entire studio, personal items, and herself to a third floor space in the Whitney. Kasper is using the space for the entire Biennial to live, work and interact with museumgoers, while continuing her creative process. During the span of the Biennial, Kasper engages in performances that are inspired and invented as she adapts to the new space and plays off of the interactions she experiences.

Sam Lewitt (b. 1981), Untitled (material for Fluid Employment), 2012. Digital photograph, dimensions variable. © Sam Lewitt; courtesy the artist and Miguel Abreu Gallery

Sam Lewitt (b. 1981), Untitled (material for Fluid Employment), 2012. Digital photograph, dimensions variable. © Sam Lewitt; courtesy the artist and Miguel Abreu Gallery

Sam Lewitt’s “Fluid Employment” (pictured above) is confusing and jarring to viewers at first glance. A brief scan of Lewitt’s written statement, however, converts what appear to be gooey, black blobs on a plastic drop cloth into a thought-provoking meditation on change. The blobs, for lack of a more eloquent description, are comprised of ferromagnetic liquid, poured bi-weekly and left to sit by blowing fans at continuous low speeds. Ferromagnetic liquid, Lewitt explains, is a material that refuses to remain in one form. The effect is a slow-moving colony of black dots that are constantly changing, encouraged by the fans and by their own resistance to stay in a singular form. Lewitt’s piece strongly juxtaposes human existence through the unconfined ferromagnetic liquid and under all the messy substance, resonates a strong message that confinement and structure are more overrated than culture allows.

The fourth floor features open rehearsals and performances by Michael Clark, currently in residence with his dance company transplanted from London. Dancers incite viewers to join them in learning basic choreography and becoming a part of the company, if only for a few brief eight-counts. Tickets to performances by the Michael Clark Company are available through whitney.org.

To engage with the full array of impressive exhibits, visit the Whitney Museum of American Art, located at 945 Madison Ave. The Whitney Biennial remains on view through May 27, with certain portions on view through June 10. For more information on participating artists, performances and museum hours, visit whitney.org.   -- Melanie Baker

Posted on April 04, 2012 - by

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