If you’ve been wondering lately, “What is contemporary art in the United States now?”—the Whitney Biennial is your one-stop destination to find out. Called a “biennial of biennials” by Whitney Museum director Adam D. Weinberg, this year, in its 77th edition, the show is revitalized with a new curatorial approach, and over 100 artists and collectives to boot. We offer this guide with Biennial particulars and reasons why you need make it to the Whitney before May 25th.
1. When? Where? How?
The Whitney Biennial takes place March 7 through May 25th, at the Whitney Museum of American Art (945 Madison Ave, at 75th Street, New York, NY, 10021). Admission to the Whitney grants access to the Biennial; tickets may be purchased in person, but given the likelihood for long lines, we recommend you purchase tickets in advance, online, here.
2. What is it? Why visit?
Deeply rooted in the history of American art, and tied to its success in the 20th century, the Whitney Biennial is a landmark exhibition every two years, that picks out American artists to watch, and shows them together, giving them full reign of one of New York City’s most prominent museums. In its limited geographic scope, the Biennial is especially valuable, given the increasingly globalized art world. In addition, this Biennial is significant as the last one to be held at the Madison Avenue, Marcel Breuer location, before the Whitney’s relocation to a new home in the Meatpacking District in 2015.
For an in-depth discussion of the Whitney Biennial’s history and significance, check out this post by our very own Matthew Israel, Director of The Art Genome Project, provides.
3. Who are the participating artists?
With the Biennial’s reputation as a career-maker for emerging artists, the opportunity to be involved is an honor, and a stamp of approval. With 103 participants—described this way to account for the numerous artist collectives involved in this Biennial—the Whitney invites twice the number of artists since the 2012 edition, ranging from the emerging to established, young to recently-deceased, and using mediums from film to ceramics and textiles to found objects. See the full list of participants, here.
4. What makes this Whitney Biennial different?
Unlike previous years, where a single, holistic curatorial approach was in order, this year’s Biennial was curated by three individuals, each one taking a floor, and selecting their own lineup of participants. As you explore the Biennial, consider each floor a new exhibition; we recommend starting at the top, and working your way down. Communal areas including stairways, elevators, the sculpture court, and the lobby were realized through collaborations between the three curators. We introduce each curator below.
5. Who is Michelle Grabner?
An artist and professor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Grabner curated the fourth floor. In presenting her floor, Grabner admitted “I built an exhibition that I never want to leave.” In her own “curriculum for other artists,” she focuses on three distinct themes, “contemporary abstract painting by women; materiality and affect theory; and art as strategy—in other words, conceptual practices oriented toward criticality.” Read our “Five Questions for Michelle Grabner” here.
6. Who is Stuart Comer?
Chief curator of media and performance art at MoMA, Comer took on the third floor. He explains that his exhibition tackles the question of how to define “American,” within an exhibition of contemporary art, and notes “As an American who has spent much of the last thirteen years in the United Kingdom, I have been compelled by artists whose work is as hybrid as the significant global, environmental, and technological shifts reshaping the United States.” Read our “Five Questions for Stuart Comer” here.
7. Who is Anthony Elms?
Associate curator at ICA Philadelphia, Elms curated the second floor. Presenting artworks that consider space and openness, Elms describes his approach: “If the Whitney Biennial is a snapshot of American art at this moment, and if any intimate encounter with American art at this moment must be mediated...then Marcel Breuer’s museum building here at 945 Madison Avenue is a well-disposed mediation for capturing 24 scenes of America.” Read our “Five Questions for Anthony Elms” here.
8. Is there related programming?
The Whitney has organized an extensive agenda of screenings, workshops led by artists, performances, and programming for children and teens. Most events are free with admission, however some require an additional fee and/or a reservation. Check here to see what’s going on the day of your visit.
9. Are there tours available?
For a guided visit through the exhibitions, free tours are available, focusing on individual floors and happening multiple times per day. Tours meet in the galleries and no reservations are necessary.
10. Are there off-site projects?
A number of Biennial projects take place outside museum walls. Tony Tasset presents Artists Monument, a multicolored acrylic sculpture featuring the names of 400,000 artists, located in Hudson River Park at 17th St; invite-only roundtable discussions will be held by Critical practices Inc.; artists Zachary Drucker and Rhys Ernst present will usher visitors to the nearby home of Flawless Sabrina for tarot readings; and Donelle Woolford will perform Dick’s Last Stand at The Kitchen and JACK in Brooklyn. Find more details, here.