The Whitney Biennial

The Real Thing is Coming Back

Attending an art opening in New York is a scene and the Whitney Biennial did not disappoint with “Even Better than the Real Thing” for 2024. This survey of American art takes place every two years and has been a hallmark of the Whitney since 1932. Traditionally the survey was only one medium, but shifted to all mediums in 1973. The whole cast of characters was present on Wednesday, from the Parsons art students with their trendy sweaters to the well-heeled ladies in opulent boots and the eccentrically dressed crowd including a woman in a bright pink dress covered in an evil eye pattern. No garlic is needed to chase away the evil spirits for her! While the crowd was drinking and dancing to the DJ we ambled around the museum and found some favorites we want to revisit when it opens to the public next week.

Takako Yamagushi: Abstract and luscious seascapes

A favorite from the evening was the refreshing take on seascapes by Takako Yamagushi. The voluminous zigzags, coils, and lines are “abstraction in reverse” which depict weather and other elements. One work shows clouds as a pattern just recognizable enough to the viewer given the context clues of a more traditional pattern of waves below. Pioneering a vibrant and luscious abstract, Yamagushi uses graphic techniques extracted from Mexican muralism and Japanese print design. These pieces are anything but minimalist, as is the case with most Japanese aesthetics in the abstract vein. The symmetrical qualities and mathematical feel of these pieces combined with the saturated reds and blues bring a surrealist feel as well.

Kiyan Williams: political statement of the exhibition

We predict this is the most Instagrammable photo spot of the exhibit. With the upside-down American flag waving atop a crumbling White House façade we’re already cringing (and curious) at the Instagram captions the art and poli sci students coming here will post. Kiyan Williams’ sculpture on the 6th-floor terrace titled The Earth Swallows is a sculpture made of earth showing the north façade of the White House sinking into the floor on one side. A statement about our fragile political foundations seems to be made as Williams’ s sculpture of trans activist Marsha P. Johnson is nearby looking on. This is not the most political piece of the Biennial though as Carmen Winant’s assembled portraits showing scenes from abortion clinics are especially difficult to see.

Cannupa Hanska Luger: The current world is upside down

Walking off the elevator onto the fifth floor, your attention immediately goes to the big pink fabric suspended from the ceiling. In conversation with the Whitney curators artist Cannupa Hanska Luger says “This installation is not inverted . . . our current world is upside down.” Visually arresting, the colorful pink and sherbet orange tipi is tethered to the ceiling, yet seemingly being held down by tooth-shaped metal anchors. Luger’s choice of materials for the tipi piece, Unziwoslal Wašičuta, includes deadstock fabric, found objects and clay which shows his commitment to sustainability – remaining true to his indigenous roots.

Maja Ruznic: An explosion of color as healing

Beautiful color palates and pleasing pinks and greens heal artist Maja Ruznic from her traumas. Ruznic’s piece The Past Awaiting the Present/Arrival of Drummers shows many stages of life coexisting in a beautiful way. We see a mother, soldier, child, and grandmother depicted here. Past, present, and future are shown linearly in this piece with an explosion of colors that somehow blend seamlessly in a visual umami. Tied into the theme of the Biennial, we see Ruznic exploring the fluidity of identity as she rewrites her history and identity as a victim from an Austrian refugee camp into a colorful story celebrating the diverse phases of life.

Our Takeaway: Shared Experience is the Real Thing

The title of the 2024 Biennial is Even Better than the Real Thing. The curators’ mandate was to gather artists who explore the permeability of the relationships between mind and body, the fluidity of identity, and the growing precariousness of the natural and constructed worlds around us. From the seascapes of Yamagushi to Luger’s inverted ephemeral tipi, the curation did feel cohesive and on theme if you take the time to delve into each artist and their history. However, whilst being engaging visually, my impression of this experience is that New Yorkers are out of hibernation and are buzzing for spring and the real thing – real conversations, real experiences, real moments. While the artists at the Biennial capture beautiful moments and make us think about the world in a new way, nothing can replace that electricity that happens when you share the experience of that art with friends. Grab your art friends, read up on the artists from our article and go to see the Biennial!