Ken Okiishi's painted flatscreens
As must-see exhibitions go, the Whitney Biennial is an old stalwart for new art. Held every other year, its rotating curators do their best to provide a snapshot of the American avant-garde, an often vast and sweeping survey of the best and brightest work in the United States today. This would mark the last Biennial held in Marcel Breuer’s hulking uptown megalith (which I’ve never felt was the most inspiring venue) before the Whitney Museum moves downtown to the base of the High Line. This year, three curators—Anthony Elms, Stuart Comer and Michelle Grabner—each took on a floor of the building to present their selections, culled from countless studio visits across America. Grabner’s minimal silverpoint tondos have caught my eye at art fairs recently, and it was her 4th-floor installation which I found most cohesive and thoughtful among the three. With so many new artists to see, a single visit is hardly enough, but for those who might not have made it in—and those who did—a selection of some of the most eye-catching work below.
Carol Jackson’s BLEHH, a sculpture equal parts refined and repulsive
Aviarium sculptures by Terry Adkins, created from silver-plated brass cymbals. Adkins was also a musician who used modified musical instruments and other salvaged materials in his work
Inside the surrealist-inspired, homoerotic funhouse installation by Bjarn Melgaard, which included layered video projections and sex dolls
Ink on paper works reminiscent of Renaissance studies by Canadian-born Paul P
Untitled (Jumped Man), Kevin Beasley’s sculpture created from foam, resin, soil, coat sleeves and Nike Jordans
Los Angeles-based Joel Otterson created a temporary homestead utilizing thrift-store glassware, tablecloths and kitchen utensils; his curtain, tent and chandeliers play on the pun of camp culture and toy with the idea of the readymade.
Ceramic sculptures and tile wall—a challenging feat technologically—from John Mason, an artist active since Abstract Expressionism’s 1950’s heyday
Australian artist Ricky Swallow’s sculpture reference domestic and artistic objects, such as guitars, pottery, and architectural elements; cast in bronze and devoid of their function, their shapes are presented for aesthetic contemplation.
Perhaps better known for his abstract paintings, Dutch-born Peter Schuyff hand-carved each pencil in this installation—without looking. He describes the practice as automatic and meditative, a break between his painted works.
A shimmering canvas of reflective silver paint from abstract artist Jacqueline Humpries; she works “backwards,” applying and then scraping away layers of paint, undoing her work until it is complete.
Ken Okiishi’s painted flatscreens were a brilliant point in the show; juxtaposing the static painted surface with ever-changing imagery (and actual static) beneath created a kinetic sculpture of sorts.
I didn’t realize until I read its wall text that Gaylen Gerber’s contribution to the show was a 40-foot canvas painted gray and stretched over the third floor’s front wall. He chose to hang two Trevor Shimizu paintings atop this so-called Backdrop, playing with the idea of wall-sized mural and interior architecture, and illustrating the point that no artwork exists independently from the context within which it’s presented.
The work that most captivated me was unfortunately one that couldn’t be captured accurately in photos: Zoe Leonard‘s camera-obscura piece, in which she inserted a lens into an exterior wall of the building, projecting shadows from outside across the interior of a sealed-off room. It was contemplative, immersive and very, very beautiful. One had the feeling of being between city walls, between dimensions almost, effectively sitting inside the eye of a camera looking out on the world. I returned to it once I’d finished the show as a quiet finale to the cacophony of excitement outside.