My visit to the 2010 Whitney Biennial coincided with reading Don Delillo’s brief novel, Point Omega. Moving through the Biennial’s many galleries, I couldn’t stop thinking about the author’s descriptions of watching Douglas Gordon’s 24 Hour Psycho (the film Psycho slowed down to run over 24 hours) or the protagonist’s interactions with other gallery viewers, or even the presence of the security guards in the museum. The current Biennial has a large number of videos necessitating the protocol involved in video watching en masse. In quantity like this, it takes on its own quasi-performative aspects that—due to their repetition and for better or worse—become an aspect of seeing the show, curated by Francesco Bonami and Gary Carrion-Murayari. A choreographed performance in and of itself, by the viewers.
Personal performances aside, the 2010 Biennial (through May 30) feels like a good cross-section of what’s being seen in galleries today, without the more sensational big-name artists sucking the air from the place. (And why should they these days, when the enormous concrete barns in Chelsea mount museum-quality exhibitions.) Love it or not, video is growing as a medium, but it makes its own demands on the viewers, who need to invest a certain amount of time to appreciate it. Some artists incorporate it into installations, like Bruce High Quality Foundation, which projects it onto the windscreen of a Cadillac hearse as one element among many others. It then becomes a texture in the complete installation. But for many others, it is the end result, and its temporal linearity often fell victim to the demands of the moment.
Many artists play with perception and technique, layering mediation. Pae White’s enormous entryway tapestry depicts wisps and curls of smoke – a photo capturing something intangible, translated into a luxe weaving that will outlast all of us. RH Quaytman’s series of screenprints mimicked Breuer’s famed skewed, recessed window in one of the Whitney’s galleries, echoing it in sparkling, diamond-dusted lines, or showing up as a subject. James Casebere’s digital chromogenic prints of models of suburbia skew concepts of utopia and reality. And Roland Flexner’s captivating sumi ink drawings look one minute like black & white Persian miniatures; the next, like elaborate Rorschach blots.
Two-dimensional art figured prominently, sometimes in surprising ways. Charles Ray, whose oversized lifelike figures are museum fixtures, here has an entire large gallery devoted to his watercolor florals, which without the knowledge of the artist’s oeuvre, might lack impact. Robert Williams’ pale cartoons manage to be both sentimental and alarming, like the best fairy tales. Julia Fish’s quiet geometric paintings feel like the love children of Leon Golub and Richard Diebenkorn. Nina Berman’s photographic account of a disfigured war veteran’s wedding demands utterly reluctant inspection. Lesley Vance’s gem-colored oils are at once small and epic. And Maureen Gallace’s ice creamy landscapes have a powerful authority that overrides any sense of playing safe.
Several performances are scheduled, including “Monastic Residencies,” to take place within Theaster Gates’ Cosmology of Yard, located in the Sculpture Court. Another, conceptualized by Mike Asher, simply—or rather complicatedly— designates that the museum be open to the public 24/7 for three days. That this period was discounted from a planned week is perhaps the most salient, and topical, point of all. Another component is an installation called Collecting Biennials, featuring work by previous Biennial artists acquired by the Whitney. So there is much to absorb, but this year’s 55 artists are much more manageable, and far less bombastic, than in years past. Right for the time.
Image: Lesley Vance,Untitled (12), 2009. Oil on linen, 18 x 15 in. (45.7 x 38.1 cm). Collection of the artist; courtesy David Kordansky Gallery, Los Angeles