2010 Whitney Biennial

Whitney Chooses Biennial Curators

Carol Vogel from The New York Times’s announced that the next Whitney Biennial curators have just been chosen, Francesco Bonami and Gary Carrion-Murayari.

“It seemed like a good idea on a lot of levels,” said Donna De Salvo, the Whitney’s chief curator. “Francesco is well known to the Whitney” — he helped organize the Rudolf Stingel retrospective in 2007 — “and he has been thinking about and looking at biennials. Gary is about investing in a younger generation of curators. Not youth for youth’s sake but tapping into the way they see.”

These Biennials are “a monster to wrestle,” as Ms. De Salvo put it, but the Whitney also wanted a young eye involved; thus an experienced curator was matched with a greener one. [ . . . ]

This year the Biennial spilled over into the Park Avenue Armory for part of its run. At other times it has spread into Central Park. The 2010 edition, it seems, will be a more concentrated affair, occupying only the museum’s landmark Marcel Breuer home.

Unless the curators find a special project that requires another sort of space. “I want to stretch the building’s dimensions,” Mr. Bonami said. “Sometimes Biennials go all over the place. This one will be more specific.”


Biennial History

The next Biennial is the 75th in the Whitney’s ongoing surveys of contemporary American art, begun in 1932, shortly after the museum was founded. Varying the approach a number of times throughout its history, the Whitney began by mounting bi-annual exhibitions of painting or sculpture (the latter including prints and drawings) between 1932 and 1936. Starting in 1937, two Annuals were held each year, one devoted to painting and the other to sculpture. This structure remained in effect (with slight modifications) until 1956, when a single Annual was held encompassing all media. Between 1959 and 1972, Annuals once again alternated between sculpture (sometimes together with prints and drawings) and painting. Motivated by the shifting character of American art, increasingly violated margins between traditional media, and the blurring of conventional distinctions, the present all-media Biennial system was initiated in 1973.

In The last Biennial in 2008, the seventy-fourth in the series of Whitney Annual and Biennial exhibitions held since 1932, eighty-one artists working at a time when art production was above all characterized by heterogeneity and dispersal. However, within the enormously differentiated field that we (perhaps absurdly) continue to yoke under the term “contemporary art,” certain prevalent modes of working and thematic concerns are particularly germane to the moment.

Many of the projects presented in the exhibition explore fluid communication structures and systems of exchange that index larger social, political, and economic contexts, often aiming to invert the more object-oriented operations of the art market. Recurring concerns involve a nuanced investigation of social, domestic, and public space and its translation into form—primarily sculptural, but also photographic and cinematic. Many artists reconcile rigorous formal and conceptual underpinnings with personal narratives or historical references. While numerous works demonstrate an explicit or implicit engagement with art history, particularly the legacy of modernism, as well as a pronounced interest in questioning the staging and display of art, others chart the topography and architecture of the decentralized American city and take inspiration from postindustrial landscapes and urban decay. Using humble or austere materials or employing calculated messiness or modes of deconstruction, they present works distinguished by their poetic sensibility as they discover pockets of beauty in sometimes unexpected places.

There is an evident trend toward creating work of an ephemeral, event-based character, in the form of music and other performance, movement workshops, radio broadcasts, publishing projects, community-based activities, film screenings, culinary gatherings, or lectures. Such projects do not stand in opposition to institutions; rather, considering each of these multiple platforms equally important, artists show objects in the museum or gallery even as they seek ways to complicate and transcend its parameters. In this spirit, the 2008 Biennial was held at the Park Avenue Armory with an extensive program of events and performances.

Across media, much work in this year’s Biennial concerns politics although its mode of address is often oblique or allegorical. Persistence, belief, and a desire to locate meaning threads through these many modes and activities rooted in what feels like a transitional moment of history. Rather than positing a definitive answer or approach, these artists exhibit instead a passion for the search, positioned in the immediate reality of our uncertain sociopolitical times.

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