By Annika Darling
There are five floors, 51 artists, 11 rotating performances and 15 film and video screenings. It has taken over a year to organize and prepare for the event, and they have only three months to showcase it.
Some would call the 2012 Whitney Biennial a pretty big deal.
It has become known as the most important showcase of contemporary art in the US. As a platform for emerging artists in the contemporary art world it showcases younger and less-known artists, who are trend setters and leaders. They are the hopefuls in the art world.
Curators Elisabeth Sussman, Sondra Gilman Curator of Photography at the Whitney Museum, and Jay Sanders, former Curator at Greene Naftali in New York, ended up being an incredible team throughout the curation process.
"Elisabeth and Jay have turned out to be a natural fit," said the Whitney's Chief Curator, Donna De Salvo, during a press preview of the exhibition. "Throughout many months of research, travel, and preparation for the exhibition, it has become clear that this is a collaboration in the truest sense of the word."
Sussman and Sanders took their time visiting the work spaces of each artist to determine if they had the vision of the "here and now," that they were looking for.
In a statement issued by the Whitney last week, Sussman and Sanders remarked, "Taking the pulse of the time through immediate experience of art is what the Whitney Biennial is all about."
The two curators collaborated with Ed Halter and Thomas Beard to curate the video portion of the exhibition. Halter and Beard are directors and founders of Light Industry, a Brooklyn based venue for film and electronic art.
As a result the exhibition is a massive collision of performance art, video, film, mixed media, as well as traditional sculpture and painting. And the roster of artists is both new, and established. It includes sculptors, painters, and playwrights; as well as musicians, choreographers and filmmakers.
Sussman and Sanders shared a notion of this expanding, fragmented, art world, and they decided it was necessary to include as many different art forms as they could.
"Their curiosity to a range of artistic approaches across disciplines will, we believe, result in a Biennial characterized by a sense of the immediate," said De Salvo, "But informed richness of what has come before."
In order to fully realize such a fragmented art world on such a large scale, Sussman and Sanders decided to turn over the entire forth floor of the museum to performances; something that has never been done in the history of the Biennial.
Performances are included in the price of admission to the museum, and will happen on a daily basis throughout the duration of the Biennial.
Continuing with this non-traditional theme, not only did Sussman and Sanders turn over an entire floor to performances but they let another artist, Dawn Kasper, actually move into the gallery. Kasper will live in the third floor gallery space, with some restrictions, throughout the exhibition.
Kasper calls it The Nomadic Studio Practice Experiment.
The development of the idea came in 2008, when Kasper lost her job. She could no longer afford a separate studio for her art. So, she turned her bedroom into her studio. Now, when invited to participate in an exhibition she transfers the entire contents of her bedroom/studio into gallery spaces, and there she works and performs.
"The nomadic studio practice in this environment is a studio, is my studio, in this context," said Kasper during a press preview of the exhibition, "within which to realize performance, and within which to realize unresolved projects. It will consistently be changing."
While Kasper is exposing her day to day activities, another artist is examining the exposure of a different type of private space.
Artist Wu Tsang has constructed a green room for the performers and artists of the Whitney Biennial and has opened this space up to public viewings. It is as much a part of the exhibition as a painting on the wall. One can now witness a behind the scenes look at the typically private space of the performer.
"I'm very interested in thinking about nightlife spaces as being really politicized, and urgent, almost like survival spaces," said Tsang at a press preview last week, "There are so few spaces in the world where people are comfortable being who they are."
Other artists exhibiting at the Biennial explore the world through different types of mixed-media, trying to grasp what it means to live in a time of such technological adolescence.
Artist Sam Lewitt, often examines both obsolete and cutting edge communications systems and technologies that are essential to our contemporary life. The piece he installed for the Biennial, Fluid Employment, reveals a material called Ferro fluid that most of us deal with on a day to day basis, but never see.
"It's in the technologies that we carry around, and it's in the technologies that build those technologies," said Lewitt, in a statement from the Whitney, "So, in some sense it's a very public material but in another it's very exotic. It's hidden away. It's foreign."
The avant-garde rock band, Red Krayola, also examines technology in their installation, Portal. Portal establishes a virtual presence with Red Krayola via Skype.
"The portal was science fiction when I was a kid," Mayo Thompson, founding member of Red Krayola, can be heard saying in the Whitney's audio guide of the exhibit, "If we meet sometime in 20 years maybe it will be what I've always hoped it would be, which is telepathic."
The installation provides a table and bench for visitors of the gallery, along with a giant notebook to doodle in while conversing with members of Red Krayola. The Portal will be open during museum hours, and members of Red Krayola promise to always be there sending from locations around the world. In doing so Thompson says they are revealing the background and the process of their work.
Just as debates are being stirred up inside the gallery, outside the gallery controversy has been stimulated as well.
For Occupy Wall Street (OWS) protestors the question isn't so much about the art, as it is about the sponsors of the art.
Prior to the opening of the Biennial OWS protestors wrote a letter to the Whitney seriously questioning the Whitney's choice in contributors, mainly that of Deutsche Bank and Sotheby's.
According to Art Fix Daily the OWS group stated in the letter that, "We object to the biennial in its current form because it up-holds a system that benefits collectors, trustees, and corporations at the expense of art workers."
The letter goes on to state the groups discontent with the Whitney's choice to relocate the museum to the meatpacking industry, an area now gentrified which was once home to many artists.
Due to these economic inequalities the group stated that it would like to see the cessation of the Biennial in 2014.
The Biennial has traditionally dealt with subject matters that not only force us to examine our lives through contemporary art, but to question the way we are living them. It consistently asks what it means to make art in America today, and what that looks like. And this year, more than any, this exhibition is defining what that is.