Whitney Museum NYC ‘Biennial’ Returns to Upper East Side

Pipe Organ, Lutz Bacher's sculpture the Whitney Biennial exhibition in Manhattan.

It's the exhibition that everyone loves to complain about, the Whitney Biennial, that every-other-year contemporary show that takes over most of the Whitney Museum of American Art for most of the spring, and purports to take the pulse of what's going on in art right now. We grouse about the selection, and its emphasis on money (what's selling) and art-world politics. We complain, but we all always go just the same. So the real question is: how does the Whitney Biennial 2012 stack up against recent editions of the museum's signature show? We spent an afternoon at the close-to-home Upper East NYC Whitney Museum last week, just a few paces from The Fairmont, The Lucerne & The Marlowe. The answer, for us, no surprise given the wide range of work on display, is mixed. 

Nicole Eisenman's painting at the Whitney Biennial on Upper East Side NYC.

The Whitney Biennial is an Upper East Side NYC Art Tradition

The Whitney 2012 Biennial definitely has enough instantly engaging pieces to recommend a visit. Probably our favorite work in the whole show was the paintings and monotypes of Nicole Eisenman, two entire walls worth of portraits that may seem crude and almost childish at first glance, but quickly show a remarkable depth and range of emotions as well as being instantly identifiable representations of the way we live today. Dawn Kasper's Nomadic Studio Practice Experiment hits our performance-art sweet spot, as the LA-based artist has taken over a third-floor alcove for the duration of the Whitney Biennial 2012. Kasper doesn't sleep there (the museum balked at that), but she did move in a jam-packed studio's- / living space's-worth of stuff, and spends the entirety of the museum's open hours creating art, moving things around, listening to music, putting up posters, chatting with museum-goers, etc. 

Dawn Kasper's Nomadic Studio Practice Experiment at NYC's Whitney Museum.

Also not bad was Pipe Organ, Lutz Bacher's punny sculpture that actually, overly-laboriously, bellows out dirges. Sam Lewitt's floor installation Fluid Employment uses thick, black magnetic liquid (or, ferrofluid), metal filings, speakers, and an array of fans to bizarre, somewhat disconcerting effect. And Concern, Crush, Desire, Nick Mauss's, three-paneled vestibule and working doorway is a whimsically grandiose illustrative installation, especially when one of the Wtiney's guards stands poised as bouncer / doorman. 

Nick Mauss's, three-paneled vestibule and working doorway at the Whitney Museum's Biennial exhibit.

2012 Whitney Biennial Features Performance Art Schedule

The Whitney Biennial 2012 has put a premium on performance art, and there's a lengthy calender of events available on the museum's website, and that's great, but here's the thing: if you go at a random time (as we did), and there's not really anything going on (as happened to us), then virtually an entire floor of the exhibition is, essentially, empty. Plus, the cool-sounding Portal, which Skypes you into the home of a member of Red Krayola for live chatting and, presumably, various hijinks, was unattended on the other end, so we sat staring at an empty room somewhere wherever. Many of this town's most respected art critics (a group within which we definitely do NOT belong) have called the Whitney Biennial 2012 some variation of "the best in years". So even if we, despite some memorable moments, were underwhelmed by the overall experience, don't take our word for it. With The 2012 Whitney Biennial, it's better just to go, and see for yourself.    

Art installation at the 2012 Whitney Biennial exhibit in Manhattan.

The Whitney Biennial 2012 details 

The 2012 Whitney Museum Biennial is on display through May 27. The Whitney Museum New York is close to Central Park on the Upper East Side between 75th and 74th Streets. The Whitney is open on Wednesday through Sunday from 11:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., and until 9:00 p.m. on Fridays. Note that admission is "pay-what-you-wish" every Friday from 6:00 p.m. until closing. For more information and Biennial 2012 images, please see The Whitney Museum website, here.    

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