The 2014 Whitney Biennial Looks to the Future-------
Today, with the opening of the 2014 Whitney Biennial, which runs through May 25, an era will end. The show marks the last staging of one of the art world’s most famously forward-looking events in the Marcel Breuer monolith at Madison Avenue and 75th Street before the museum decamps to its new Meatpacking District digs in the spring of 2015. This year’s BCBGMAXAZRIAGROUP-sponsored show boasts works by 103 artists—both emerging, like duo Zackary Drucker and Rhys Ernst (below), and established, like Sterling Ruby and Gary Indiana (above)—and comprises a dizzying array of mediums and vernaculars. Three curators (Stuart Comer, Anthony Elms, and Michelle Grabner) brought in from outside the organization were each tasked with filling one floor of the museum. Style.com sat down with director Adam Weinberg to talk moving, the future, and why three heads are better than one.
On the eve of the last Biennial in the current space, what is the mood? Excitement? Nostalgia?
It’s forward-looking. I think the great thing about the Whitney is while we have a great history, it’s always about looking forward, and it’s an understanding that you always have to embrace where you are now. To keep your eyes on the horizon but not lose track of where you’ve come from. It doesn’t feel nostalgic to me—it feels right.
Did the upcoming relocation lead you to take a different approach to curating this year’s show?
It did. We brought in three outside curators, and each curator was given a floor of the museum. So it’s basically three exhibitions in one that complement one another and connect to one another but are distinct shows.
Was there any interaction between the curators to ensure a somewhat unified final product?
They met with each other; they got to know each other; they talked about artists together. There were some artists whom they all three agreed they were interested in having, and then they would decide who would best belong where. But otherwise, they did it independently.
How much does the space influence the show’s curation?
Quite a bit because it becomes the frame for the show. If you took the same group of artists and installed it in the new space downtown, it would be a different show. It doesn’t mean it’s not similar, but it would feel different. The concept of physical space changes how you experience it.
What is the new downtown location going to afford you for the next Biennial?
A lot of outdoor space. We have 14,000 square feet of it at the new building. And then we have dedicated performing arts space, which could be used for performance or installation or video. It’ll feel very different.
How do you think that the Whitney is going to fit into the largely gallery-driven downtown art dynamic?
I think it will offer a good contrast because the galleries are not primarily devoted to providing a context of work, and they’re not primarily devoted to scholarship. They pick their artists they believe in and they support them, but their primary role in the end is to support their artists and sell their work. We’re not selling the work. Not directly, anyway.
Does public reaction to past Biennials play into your approach to curating?
Never. No. You can’t curate through marketing. We care about the audience, but you have to start with the art, start with the artist. Our job is to get a sense of what’s really happening. And I truly believe that the real audience is people who want to know what’s going on. The audience is determined by the content and character and quality of the work and not by going out and asking people what they want. I mean, there are a lot of museums that now go out and they have all these voting things. That’s fine; that’s their approach. But my approach is what is our mission, what is our history, what is our connection, what drives us? And that is being active, and the visions of artists working in a particular moment. And it brings people out.