As always, the Whitney Museum of Art’s biennial aims to provoke. But the 78th installment of the lauded (and sometimes reviled) survey of American art—and the first at the museum’s new Meatpacking District location—is one of the most political in recent memory. Themes are centered around current affairs, and many of the artworks chosen express societal confusion. (At least one has inspired controversy.) Read on for a few of our favorite pieces, and then go see the show for yourself.
“Claim” by Pope.L (aka William Pope.L)
Walk up to this display and take a whiff. Pope.L’s cured creation features 2,755 slices of bologna pinned to a grid on walls painted light pink and green. Each piece of bologna features a black-and-white photograph secured by a dollop of white paint, representing New York’s Jewish population. Pope.L has created versions of this installation before, but this is his largest. It’s also the first thing to catch your eye when you enter the exhibit on the fifth floor.
“Ian F. Svenonius’s ‘Censorship Now!!’ ” by Frances Stark
Displayed in the fifth floor gallery are artist Frances Stark’s series of canvasses that borrow text from punk musician Ian Svenonius’ collection of essays, Censorship Now!! The satirical script calls for censoring politicians, artists and the free press; the artist adds her own touch by highlighting portions and dripping fake blood over one passage that reads: “When the state, like a rampaging mob boss, systematically destroys its opponents (MLK, Malcolm X . . .), how are we to interpret their embraces of ‘the arts’?”
“Signs” by Deana Lawson
The Rochester-born photographer stages her subjects, mostly African Americans, in intimate scenes that capture various events of daily life. These images are meant to challenge viewers’ experiences and highlight preconceived notions placed on the subjects by American media. This image features a group throwing up gang signs.
“beginning & the end neither & the otherwise betwixt & between the end is the beginning & the end” by Raúl de Nieves
Located at the far end of the fifth floor, Raúl de Nieves’ mufti-faceted piece features 17-foot-high faux stained-glass windows that create a kaleidoscopic effect throughout the space. Six paneled scenes depict various figures and recall medieval church windows. The main focus, a fly, represents death and transformation. In front of the stained glass is a series of sculptures adorned in rainbow-colored plastic beads.
“Root sequence. Mother tongue” by Asad Raza
The space at the far end of the sixth-floor gallery, which offers a sweeping view of the Hudson River, has been transformed into a peaceful forest by New York artist Asad Raza. The work features 26 different potted trees (cherry, persimmon and redbud among them) in different stages of bloom; each piece is decorated with mementos left by the artist’s friends and the exhibit’s caretakers at the museum.
“Figure Ground: Beyond the White Field” by Rafa Esparza
LA-based artist Rafa Esparza’s installation (on view for free in the first floor lobby) is composed of handmade adobe bricks composed of hay, clay, horse manure and water from the Los Angeles River. The installation is housed in a room made of adobe and explores agricultural living. Photographs by Dorian Ulises López Macías—large-scale portraits of Mexican men—adorn the brick walls.