Dozens of Artists, 3 Critics: Who’s Afraid of the Whitney Biennial 2024?

The Whitney Biennial, New York’s most prominent showcase of new American (or American-ish) art, thrives on argument: in print, in comment threads, in barrooms and sometimes in the galleries themselves. Its 81st edition opens Thursday to museum members and to the public on March 20, and it introduces a “dissonant chorus” — in the phrase of Ligia Lewis, a participating artist and choreographer — of young talents and veteran practitioners. We sent a dissonant chorus of our own to the Whitney Museum of American Art: three critics, each writing separately, on the highs and lows of the exhibition everyone will have an opinion about.

Jason Farago | Travis Diehl | Martha Schwendener

Jason Farago

The Beauty and the Cynicism

What can the Whitney Biennial be, now, so late after the end of modernism? Is it a grand intellectual battle, or just an insiders’ chinwag? A polemic, or a party? A get-’em-while-they’re-young (or while-they’re-old-but-underpriced) market showcase, the cultural equivalent of the N.B.A. draft? An atavistic society ritual, a debutante’s ball for the M.F.A. debtset?

Choose your own metaphor, but one thing it cannot be is a summation of where art stands in the United States in 2024. When the larger culture is rudderless, and an avant-garde will not come again, the best you can offer — or so this year’s curators, Chrissie Iles and Meg Onli, seem to say — is a cross-section with a point of view. Their biennial is small, with just 44 artists and collectives across four floors of the museum and its outdoor spaces; another two dozen will screen films in the Whitney’s theater and, for the first time, on its website.Indeed,the show is small in other ways: resolutely low-risk, visually polite, and never letting the wrong image get in the way of the right position.

Installation of Diane Severin Nguyen’s film “In Her Time (Iris’s Version),” 2023-24, about a young actress struggling with her role in a (fictional) movie about the Nanjing Massacre. Jason Farago calls it “a vibrant case study” of the hazards of projecting the present onto the past. Credit…Charlie Rubin for The New York Times

Back to top button