The Seventy Eighth Annual Whitney Biennial

New York hosts some of the world’s most well attended art fairs, drawing in thousands of art lovers and professionals from all over the world. Of them is the Whitney Biennial (March 17-June 11), the longest running overview and celebration of US contemporary art. Gertrube Vanderbilt Whitney launched the Annual and Biennial art exhibitions in 1932, and for decades these events took place inside the museum’s former uptown home inside the Breuer building.  This year’s Biennial, the seventy-eighth in the museum’s series, is the first to be held at the Whitney’s new downtown galleries at 99 Gansevoort Street.

Each Whitney Biennial attempts to address key themes, among them this year are what the museum says is the formation of self and the individuals’s place in a turbulent society. The show is co-curated by Christopher Y. Lew (36) and Mia Locks (34); Lew is an associate curator at the Whitney and both spent time on curatorial projects at MoMA PS1. Unlike the last Whitney Biennial in 2014, where more than a hundred artists presented, the curators this year selected sixty-three participants, both established and emerging artists. Works range from mediums of drawing, painting, sculpture, film and video to photography, installation, activism, music, performance, and video game design.

Whitney’s Deputy Director for Programs, Scott Rothkopf, said, “With the opening of the new building, we’re rededicating ourselves to the Whitney’s longstanding commitment to emerging artists. Chris’s keen eye has been critical to this renewed focus in our program, which just launched with his presentations of Jared Madere, Rachel Rose, and New Theater. Mia’s interest in both historical figures and new tendencies, as well her years on the West Coast will add important perspective to the Biennial. The two of them have great intellectual chemistry, and it’s exciting to see the first Biennial in our new home in the hands of such talented young curators.”

Some of the artists and work to look out for at this year’s Biennial are Raúl de Nieves’ sculptures and stained glass window that will be visible from downtown New York’s streets at night. Mexican-born artist, Aliza Nisenbaum, displays her painted portraits of immigrants, some residing in the the US illegally. The paintings seems more relevant than ever, presented as they are during the current US administration’s shift in immigration reform. Then there are the museum’s breathtaking city side balconies, where massive works are to be exhibited, such as the artist Larry Bell’s large, red laminated glass boxes.

Those visiting the Whitney for the first time will find a trove of fabulous 20th and 21st century American art. The museum’s permanent collection contains more than 21,000 pieces of work, paintings, sculptures, photography and so on, and curators have a penchant for exhibiting the work of living artists. Visitors may also access Whitney’s library in West Chelsea, that contains a special collections, ephemera pertaining to the museum’s permanent collections, and institutional archives, and research and manuscript collections.

99 Gansevoort St, New York, NY 10014; http://whitney.org; T. (212) 570-3600

Words by Rocky Casale