It’s Biennial Time

The Whitney Museum of American Art's Biennial show has long been heralded as a survey of the most influential up-and-comers, and also derided as a hit-or-miss exhibit that fails to live up to its hype. The reality, of course, falls somewhere in between, and this year's exhibit—running through June 1—is no exception. Some of the works are sublime: Venezuela-born Javier Téllez films six blind people interacting with an elephant, in a literal adaptation of the old proverb on the limits of knowledge; Jedediah Caesar sculpts Technicolor resin into formations that bubble like the surface of some far-off planet; Daniel Joseph Martinez fills a room with simple yellow plaques giving name to "Divine Violence," groups both well known (The Irish Republican Army, Mossad) and obscure (Nuclei for promoting total catastrophe). Other installations fall short: a room filled with mutilated Bart Simpson photographs and a movie loop of "Pirates of the Caribbean" comes to mind. A common thread throughout is disorientation: news articles on rappers mingle under plexiglass with pictures of Egyptian antiquities; golden pregnant torsos—once fertility objects—sit decontextualized as shiny commodities; X-ray-exposed photos of the old Iraqi regime's East German Embassy are a study in the art of the vanished.

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