The curators of the 76th Whitney Biennial exhibition say they are “taking the pulse of the time through the immediate experience of art.” Museum founder and sculptor Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney introduced the first Biennial in 1932.
By Mary Brennan Gerster
The curators of the 76th Whitney Biennial exhibition say they are “taking the pulse of the time through the immediate experience of art.” Museum founder and sculptor Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney introduced the first Biennial in 1932. The mission of the exhibition has always been to showcase the developments in American art of the past two years. This Biennial has crossed traditional boundaries of visual art by incorporating video art of the past few years, as well as original dance, performance art, and documentaries.
There are several artists in this year’s exhibition that deserve your attention.
Elaine Reichek has brought the ancient art of needlework and Greek mythology to the walls of the Whitney. She combines delicate hand stitching with digital embroidery on linen. Ariadne is featured in two of her works. Ariadne’s Lament (2009) tells the story through individual iconography. In There’s No Narrative (2011) the narrative is stitched among the walls of the labyrinth. In We Construct a Narrative (2008), reference is again made to Ariadne, who used thread to keep her love Theseus. The pieces are beautiful, thought provoking, and exquisitely created.
You can’t miss the wall of 24 small canvases by Andrew Masullo that are grouped together. They are a collection of vivid colors and rhythmic and biomorphic shapes, which work individually and as a group. Lacking titles, each is numbered and dated as is done in printmaking.
Seasons 1 through IV (2011), four large canvases by Jutta Koether, are displayed on glass walls in the middle of a gallery, near a window, with light streaming from the outside. Loose, scribbled brushstrokes give a wonderful motion to each piece, which, at first glance, appear abstract. Upon closer observation, forms emerge.
There is a breathtaking, five-screen panorama digital piece by filmmaker Werner Herzog. Hearsay of the Soul pays tribute to Dutch artist Hercules Segers (1589-1638).
The lobby gallery is filled with 45 monoprints in mixed media by Nicole Eiseman, which are well worth your time.
As with all the Biennials I’ve attended, I come away thinking some of the works don’t warrant the space they are given. Art can be political or controversial, but there still needs to be a sense of artistic brilliance and that is missing in some of these works.
A mixed media work, Last Spring: A Prequel (2011,) a positively creepy mannequin of a young boy in a corner, moves and speaks. All of us at the press opening were reminded of Chucky from the “Child’s Play” horror films.
Dawn Kaspar, a perfectly delightful woman, has moved into a gallery space lock, stock, and barrel with bed and books. The space is reminiscent of every college dorm room. It is “performance art”, but its artistic merit, other than novelty, eludes me.
The Whitney Biennial always provides great food for thought and conversation, and you cannot join the conversation if you haven’t seen the show.
The exhibit runs through May 27. The museum is closed Monday and Tuesday. Admission is pay what you wish Fridays from 6 to 9 p.m. Call 212-570-3600 or visit whitney.org.