The Whitney Biennial: What’s new and noteworthy

Visitors view Nicole Eisenman’s mixed media monotypes at a press preview of the 2012 Whitney Biennial at the Whitney Museum of American Art. The contemporary art exhibition includes sculpture, photography, painting, installations, dance, theater, film and music.

Fourteen months ago, freelance curator Jay Sanders says he and curator Elisabeth Sussman went traveling to “take the pulse of what is relevant in art today.” The 50 or so artists they discovered make up this year’s Whitney Biennial, the famed temporary art explosion at the Whitney which includes the best and brightest in sculpture, photography, painting, installations, dance, theater, film and music. Here’s what Sanders and Sussman say to keep an eye on for 2012:

Performance art takes center stage
“This biennial has a rededication to performance,” says Sanders, who points out the whole fourth floor of the Whitney is currently transformed to be a “big performance venue.” He continues: “We’re trying to do a more expanded view of the arts and see how it all fits into the context of contemporary art.” Some highlights? This year’s selections for dance, theater and music, as well as a “really ambitious cinema series,” are inclusions that art lovers might find strikingly different from other biennials.

Not just for young people anymore
Yes, the biennial skews younger in both artists and audiences (especially those art lovers who flock there Friday nights when admittance is free) but Sussman claims two of their most buzzworthy artists are Werner Herzog, who contributes “Hearsay of the Soul,” a five-screen digital projection, and the sculptor Robert Gober. “Both of those artists are over 50,” says Sussman. Sanders calls the show multigenerational. “We’re definitely not skewed as young as past biennials,”?he says. “Our show has a more eclectic range of known and unknown artists — many later in their careers.”

If you’re going to see one exhibit this year, make it this one
“The biennial is a really wonderful institution because it’s a chance to see a big statement of what art is at the moment,”?says Sanders. “You can put yourself in a place where you can think about what contemporary art is.” But it’s not only a snapshot of the art world, says Sussman: “It’s a very important thing for New York City every two years.”

Think about a membership
“Crowds have really been huge and people are buying memberships, which is great  because that means they can come unlimited times,” says Sussman. “The biennial is not a fixed exhibit. It really changes and fluctuates over time, so in order to get in everything the biennial has to offer, come more than once.”


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