As light finds a path through darkness, so “Whitney Biennial 2022: Quiet as It’s Kept” found its way. Curated by the resilient team of Adrienne Edwards and David Breslin, the exhibition was in the works in 2019, before a world-altering pandemic. The impressive 80th edition, presented by Tiffany & Co., echoes and reshapes the biennial put into motion by the Whitney Museum of American Art’s founder, Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, in 1932. In a dynamic presentation, unprecedented in its form and liberated spirit, 63 artists—including Yto Barrada, Leidy Churchman, Matt Connors, Aria Dean, Alia Farid, Ellen Gallagher, Alfredo Jaar, Na Mira, Pao Houa Her, Charles Ray, Sable Elyse Smith, and Andrew Roberts—and collectives have been selected by the curators for the long-running series of special exhibitions and public programs. The event is currently on view through September 5.
Quiet as It’s Kept is an expression weaved into the works of novelist Toni Morrision, artist David Hammons, and jazz drummer Max Roach. The phrase, used before mentioning sensitive knowledge to be kept secret, energized the Whitney’s curators. Edwards and Breslin enhanced the biennial with a symbol of inverted parentheses, ) (, derived from avant-garde, American poet N. H. Pritchard’s visually-compelling 1968 poem—presented in the exhibition catalog. Pritchard moved freely through New York literary circles, from his membership in Umbra, a collective of Black writers in the Lower East Side, to his rapport with the beat poets of Greenwich Village. Breslin and Edwards said, “The symbol resonated with us in its gesturing toward openness, beyond what is contained, even toward the uncontainable. We also value its suggestion of interlude or interval.”
The physical exhibition and gallery spaces in and outside the museum, as well as the artworks themselves, reflect this open-mindedness. Areas of darkness and stricture lead to spaces of expansion and light. Even the boundaries of America as we know it are re-molded by First Nations artist Raven Chacon, and Mexican artists Alejandro “Luperca” Morales and Mónica Arreola. Edwards and Breslin noted, “Rather than proposing a unified theme, we pursue a series of hunches throughout the exhibition: that abstraction demonstrates a tremendous capacity to create, share, and, sometimes withhold, meaning; that research-driven conceptual art can combine the lushness of ideas and materiality; that personal narratives sifted through political, literary, and pop cultures can address larger social frameworks; that artworks can complicate what ‘American’ means by addressing the country’s physical and psychological boundaries; and that our ‘now’ can be reimagined by engaging with under-recognized artistic models and artists we’ve lost.”
Quiet as It’s Kept,” engages its community with rich public programs: conversations, tours, workshops, and readings explore and expand upon the multifaceted exhibitions on display. “Deliberately intergenerational and interdisciplinary, the Biennial proposes that cultural, aesthetic, and political possibility begins with meaningful exchange and reciprocity,” said Edwards and Breslin.