February 27, 2010

The Whitney Biennial 2010

Founded in 1931 by Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney as a showcase for her impressive collection, the Whitney Museum of American Art maintains its original focus on American art and artists of the 20th and 21st Centuries. Since 1966 the Whitney has been at home on Madison Avenue at 75th Street, in an impressive Modern building designed by Marcel Breuer. As well as the museum's superb permanent collection of works by American Masters such as Benton, Calder, Frankenthaler, Hopper, Johns, O'Keeffe and Warhol, they are known for their excellent temporary exhibitions, the most famous of which is the Whitney Biennial.

For followers of Contemporary Art there is no more exciting event than this one. Since 1932 when it was an annual presentation, through its 75th incarnation on right now, the Whitney Biennial has been THE show for young, emerging American artists to gain status and exposure and for observers to try to predict the trends in the art world. The Whitney Biennial has always reflected the prevailing social, economic and cultural climate often with strident messages and striking uses of cutting-edge mediums.

The 2010 Edition of the Whitney Biennial is no exception. Although the work in general is not as shocking as in prior years, it is still very reflective of what up-and-coming artists are concerned with and how they see the world. The current economic situation is quite evident in the less spectacular installations and safer, more reflective works of art. The hyper art market of two years ago is definitely over, but there are still some interesting and provocative pieces on view.

I am not an aficionado of the Contemporary art scene and I would never attempt to predict the next Picasso from this lot, but I did have some favorites. Like Roland Flexner whose ink drawings evoked beautiful, surreal landscapes in black and white and James Casebere's large format photographs of colorful but uninhabited model subdivisions. I found Kate Gilmore's video of herself wearing a polka dotted dress and high heels kicking and clawing her way up out of a sheet rock column very entertaining, but I suspect she had a deeper meaning than simply venting her frustrations. Daniel McDonald's diorama of a Michael Jackson doll boarding the mythical ferry of Charon to be taken to the underworld was an amusing take on the demise of the pop icon. And the white hearse with the performance video playing by The Bruce High Quality Foundation was a real attention getter.

There is a lot of hype in the New York art world this week with the opening of the Whitney Biennial just ahead of the annual Armory Show and its satellite fairs and the Art Dealers Association of America "Art Show" at the Park Avenue Armory. I'll be visiting several of these fairs in the next few days and will report back with my observations. But if you're curious about the state of American Contemporary art and artists, pay a visit to the Whitney and check it out. The Whitney Biennial runs until May 30.

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