2012 Whitney Biennial

By Jacqueline Bates

April 17th, 2012

Exhibition Dates: March 1 – May 27, 2012
Location: Whitney Museum of American Art, 945 Madison Ave., New York  View Google Map
Website: Click Here

Installation view of 2012 Whitney Biennial (Whitney Museum of
American Art, New York, March 1-May 27, 2012). Photograph by
Sheldan C. Collins.

Installation view of 2012 Whitney Biennial (Whitney Museum of
American Art, New York, March 1-May 27, 2012). Photograph by
Sheldan C. Collins.

The almost always criticized Whitney Biennial is back, but this year, with line-ups around the block, it’s the don’t-miss show of the season — and for all the right reasons. Curators Elisabeth Sussman and Jay Sanders have trimmed the list of artists down to 51, compared to 100 in 2006. The show is not overstuffed, and you don’t leave the museum feeling overwhelmed.

Wu Tsang (b. 1982), Production still from WILDNESS, 2012 (in progress). High-definition video, color, sound.
© Wu Tsang; courtesy the artist

Sussman and Sanders describe this Biennial as taking inspiration from “old, weird America.” Detroit artist Michael E. Smith places objects in unassuming places within the museum: shirts hanging from a ceiling light; two gas pumps covered in oatmeal that almost blend into the wall. His “science fiction dystopia” reflects a familiar, yet alien, post-apocalyptic landscape. Wu Tsang’s GREEN ROOM is an immersive installation that blurs the line between public and private by letting museum-goers walk through a glammed-out dive bar with video projections. It also serves as the dressing room for performers who partake in the fourth-floor dance performances nearby, which is a Biennial first. Getting off the elevator and seeing a huge open space, filled with dancers rehearsing before ticketed performances, is exhilarating. Two dance companies were tapped to occupy the space over the course of the Biennial. First was choreographer Sarah Michelson; Michael Clark, a British bad-boy choreographer, held court with open rehearsals and performances from March 29 through April 8, working with a combination of trained and untrained dancers.

Installation view of 2012 Whitney Biennial (Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, March 1-May 27, 2012).
Photograph by Sheldan C. Collins.

Currently, film and video pioneer, Charles Atlas is in residence from April 18th to 22nd, with performances on the 21st and 22nd, including live audio and video improvisations with William Basinski and Johanna Constantine, which promises to be an extremely compelling event. Tickets can be purchased online, but the Whitney will be releasing standby tickets (30 minutes prior to each performance), so be early to ensure you don’t miss an incredible show. In previous years, the Whitney has held dance performances in multiple locations around Manhattan, which is a bit tedious. In fact, this is the first year ever that nearly a full floor of the museum has had a changing roster of performance work.

Installation view of 2012 Whitney Biennial (Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, March 1-May 27, 2012).
Photograph by Sheldan C. Collins.

Other highlights include Lutz Bacher’s Pipe Organ, a vintage Yamaha synthesizer organ playing monotone sounds with large pipes strategically placed around it. Tom Thayer’s childlike, animated, amateur lo-fi videos and bird puppets reference high and low culture. A mini self-contained exhibition curated by Robert Gober of small semi-abstract paintings by the outsider artist Forrest Bess, who preferred to live in solitude in rural Texas and died in 1977, is truly compelling and disturbing. Spend some time with Werner Herzog’s five-screen digital projection of details from etchings by Hercules Segers; if you’re not taken by the visuals you certainly will be by the moving cello performed by Ernst Reijseger.

New York City-based photographer Jacqueline Bates was born in Mount Kisco, New York, in 1981 and raised in Connecticut. She received her Bachelor of Fine Arts in 2004 and Master of Fine Arts in 2009, both in photography, from the School of Visual Arts in NYC. Her work has been exhibited in group exhibitions in New York City, Chicago, Portland, Colorado, and Vancouver. In addition to taking pictures, Bates also works in magazine publishing as a photography editor at W Magazine.


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