2010, Francesco Bonami and Gary Carrion-Murayari’s Whitney Biennial, is essentially a Whitney Biennial calibrated for the times: small at 55 artists and altogether humble. This humility, and the fact that one needn’t contend with an overwrought curatorial concept, allows viewers a more cogent experience than past, sprawling, thesis-driven Biennials could offer. Several works, rooms and motifs make good impressions. Not many are impressive enough to make an indelible impact—but a few are. Judging by the past couple decades, the task of this biennial of American art seems insurmountable, and there is no urgency to fault this edition for hitting the target and missing the bulls-eye. While the levelness here is exciting as an indicator of a playing field for post-boom artistic production, the devil’s advocate wonders, perhaps unfairly, if there isn’t something ultimately more exciting about a splashy Biennial that fails stupendously.
In the absence of an overarching conceit, why not start with a premise that did precede itself a bit: the third floor as a dedicated space for film and video. Considering the continued expansion of film and video practices throughout the art world, the idea seemed gimmicky at best—easily the curators could fill a floor, but why ghettoize? Then, come February 25, visitors stepping off the elevator and onto floor three were greeted by a tapestry by Pae White, freezing a frame of interlaced wisps of smoke in a vast expanse of fabric. Mercifully this is not a plain LCD screen (as it turns out, the floor showcases a variety of mediums), but as a piece that meditates on materiality, medium and time, it serves as an excellent banner to welcome visitors to the area of the exhibition that is most concentrated on media. The projects therein attending to these matters soar.