The last Biennial in Marcel Breuer’s iconic building on Madison Avenue before the Whitney's move downtown is one of the boldest—and largest. This year’s Whitney Biennial will have three outside curators edit the show, involving 103 participants in all—more than twice the number of the 2012 exhibit.
Donna De Salvo, chief curator at the Whitney, explains that the three—Anthony Elms, an associate curator at Philadelphia’s Institute of Contemporary Art; Stuart Comer, former film curator at Tate Modern in London, and now chief curator of media and performance art at MoMA; and Michelle Grabner, a professor at Chicago’s School of the Art Institute—were chosen for their diverse curatorial approaches, geographic backgrounds, and their “distinct points of view.” The result, she says, is “one of the most diverse takes on art the Whitney has offered in years.”
Throughout the show big name painters, sculptors, and photographers, like David Hammons, Sterling Ruby, and Sherrie Levine will be on view, of course, but “figures of influence,” both living and deceased, including ChannaHorwitz, Sarah Charlesworth, and Tony Greene will predominate—as well as the exciting young artists who have been impacted by their works. If you’ve missed painting in recent Biennials, you’re in for a treat: Almost a third of the artists this year are known primarily as painters. Other highlights include crossover works, so you’ll find paintings by writers and performances by gallerists. New media is well represented (Triple Canopy) as is old (drafts by the late novelist David Foster Wallace of his last unfinished work, The Pale King).
In tribute to the Whitney’s long history of minimalist art and experimental performances, curator Anthony Elms asked composer Robert Ashley to open the Biennial with a theatrical work. Visual artist and composer Charlemagne Palestine was tapped to create a “sound installation that will reverberate with the space,” according to Elms. Curator Stuart Comer focuses on allegiances between artists with shared sensibilities. “We are so far beyond the term multimedia,” he says. “All art forms are shifting among one another.”
Curator Michelle Grabner, a painter as well as an academic, has chosen to explore three themes: “art that emphasizes critique and self-reflection” (Gary Indiana); women artists who examine what it means to be a “woman artist” (Louise Fishman, Molly Zuckerman-Hartung); and “materiality and craft” (Sheila Hicks, whose fiber sculptures “push back” at the old notion of art versus craft). The 2014 Whitney Biennial will run from March 7 through May 25 at the Whitney, 945 Madison Ave., 212-570-3600
PHOTOGRAPHY BY BRIAN BUCKLEY/COURTESY OF CHEIM & READ, NEW YORK