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Encompassing the fifth and sixth floors of the Whitney Museum is the 2017 Whitney Biennial—the 78th installment of the longest-running survey of American art, on view through June 11. The exhibition offers a diverse set of works in a variety of mediums to challenge and expose today’s rapidly changing cultural landscape, through the work of 63 artists and collectives, co-curated by Christopher Y. Lew and Mia Locks. The show shines an eye-opening and accurately harsh light on an array of turbulent topics like violence, racial tensions, immigration, activism, polarizing politics, religion, debt, homelessness, sex, and denial. Its installations range in mediums from virtual reality to painting and from video game design to sculpture, and overall runs rampant with deep meaning, extreme detail, and immense consideration for the underhanded world and its zealots today.
There are a few standout pieces, including: Pope.L’s Claim of 2,755 slices of bologna individually tacked in gridded squares (which you can smell before seeing) on a structure; Samara Golden’s The Meat Grinder’s Iron Clothes set against the museum’s windows, reflected by mirrors on the floor and ceiling, juxtaposing pristine high-class living and grotesque poverty on the same streets; Jordan Wolfson’s an intensely brutal virtual reality experience Real Violence where viewers test their ability to withstand watching the artist beat another man with a baseball bat; Raúl de Nieves’ stained glass windows and intricate bead-adorned figures; and Larry Bell’s six laminated glass works entitled Pacific Red II on the museum’s fifth floor terrace.
“They ponder, provoke, and protest,” said Adam Weinberg, Director of the Whitney Museum of American Art, of the artists at the biennial’s preview on March 13. “So given the heightened, almost palpable divisions, that have been growing in our country, it is not surprising that sense of tensions, uncertainty, disorientation, frustration, and even anger, is reflected in the exhibition. But the artists don’t just see what is—they imagine what can be. Accordingly, the exhibition also offers reflections on how we got here and a platform for collective action. This is also a biennial for hopefulness, generosity (and I underline that word), and sincerity. Irony be gone. Art plays a crucial role in culture, and its ability to mirror who we are and affect change. It is often the jumping off point for discussion and debate, and trust me, this one will be. It is also a touchstone that engenders empathy and understanding in allowing us to see the world through someone else’s eyes.”
The 2017 Whitney Biennial is on view through June 11.