Critiques

Poignant Patriotism is on View at the Stunning 2022 Whitney Biennial

photos of the poignant patriotism on view at the stunning 2022 Whitney Biennial. © Dandelion Chandelier.

Every edition of the Whitney Museum’s biannual survey of American art is a moment to pause and consider the state of the nation. So, where are we right now? Well, this is a hard time to be in America for many people. And the strains and complexities of what it means to be in this difficult national moment are on full display at this year’s Whitney Biennial. In an emotional and provocative exhibit of work by American artists, this year’s Biennial poses simple questions with complicated answers. And it reminds us that the American journey is one filled with both darkness and light. Here’s what to know, our review, and our favorite photos of the highlights and poignant patriotism on view at the stunning 2022 Whitney Biennial in New York City.

highlights of the 2022 Whitney Biennial

We visited this year’s Whitney Biennial shortly before Juneteenth and the 4th of July, and that timing turned out to be fortuitous. Because what better time to reflect on American art and what it means to be American than those two national holidays?

photos of the poignant patriotism on view at the stunning 2022 Whitney Biennial. © Dandelion Chandelier.

Photos of the poignant patriotism on view at the stunning 2022 Whitney Biennial. Still from installation of Death of A, 2022, Kandis Williams. © Dandelion Chandelier.

As you know, the Whitney exhibits only American art. Which makes any visit there a meditation on our country, and how artists can illuminate the experience of living in this country with all of its beauty and its contradictions.

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photos of the 2022 Whitney Biennial

This eightieth edition of the Biennial is co-curated by David Breslin and Adrienne Edwards. Titled Quiet as It’s Kept, the show features a group of sixty-three artists and collectives.

we begin in darkness

The sixth floor entrance to the Biennial is where most people start (the best way to visit the Whitney is to go to the top floor by elevator and walk down, stopping on each floor). As the elevator opens, visitors are immediately plunged into darkness. Quiet as its Kept is the theme of this year’s show and the darkness of this floor is velvety and enveloping – like a cave or a tunnel, it’s the kind of darkness that invites you in. And which may later prove less benign than it appears.

dark memories

Light and shadow play a large role in how one experiences the art on display in these galleries. The first works on view are monumental black and while abstracts by the late Denyse Thomasos. Displaced Burial/Burial at Gorée, 1993 and Jail, 1993 are part of a triptych notable for  its “dense grids of black and white lines [evoking] structures such as a slave ship, prison and burial site,” all of which “left such catastrophic effects on the black psyche,” the artist wrote.

What to know, review, and photos of the highlights and poignant patriotism on view at the stunning 2022 Whitney Biennial in New York City.

What to know, review, and photos of the highlights and poignant patriotism on view at the stunning 2022 Whitney Biennial in New York City. © Dandelion Chandelier.

We were also struck by the mournful, ghostly view of Daniel Joseph Martinez’s series of five photographs of himself in the guise of monsters and destroyers, shown behind a scrim as if they are visions from a violent dream.

© Dandelion Chandelier.

Not every image in this space is funereal – far from it, actually. There are dark images that are framed in a way that they radiate light, as in these works by Guadalupe Rosales, including  Winter Solstice/Hazards, 2022. Shot in East Los Angeles, the photographs capture an “abstract quality of night that is potent with dreams and escape and journey.”

© Dandelion Chandelier.

Because of the way the light falls in these galleries, it’s impossible not to reflect on who gets to be seen in America, and in what light. What stories unfold in darkness, and which truths see the light of day.

© Dandelion Chandelier.

seeing ghosts

Fellow visitors can appear to be apparitions – ghostly reminders of acts committed in darkness. They can also resemble celestial harbingers of brighter days to come. Like a promise being made.

© Dandelion Chandelier.

Not surprisingly, the “dark” half of the exhibit takes on a spiritual dimension that is not unlike being in a sanctuary. Which is what we saw when we viewed this installation by WangShui.

© Dandelion Chandelier.

Perhaps the most splendid of all the works in this dark passage was Jonathan Berger’s An Introduction to Nameless Love. It explores “profoundly transformative experiences of non-romantic love.” Even so, it’s absolutely dreamy – and quite romantic.

© Dandelion Chandelier.

© Dandelion Chandelier.

moving into the light

Photos of the poignant patriotism on view at the stunning 2022 Whitney Biennial. © Dandelion Chandelier.

Not just sunlight – also moonlight, as in The Guiding Light, 2021, by Harold Ancart.

Photos of the poignant patriotism on view at the stunning 2022 Whitney Biennial. © Dandelion Chandelier.

One of the guards was so excited about Sutter’s Mill, 2000 that he couldn’t stop talking about it. Perhaps because we were among the only two Black people in the room at time? At any rate, it’s a story worth telling – and retelling.

What to know, review, and photos of the highlights and poignant patriotism on view at the stunning 2022 Whitney Biennial in New York City.

What to know, review, and photos of the highlights and poignant patriotism on view at the stunning 2022 Whitney Biennial in New York City. © Dandelion Chandelier.

The work is based on the California sawmill where the 1848 discovery of gold set off the California Gold Rush. A decade later, this land was purchased by Nancy and Peter Gooch, a formerly enslaved couple who eventually owned more than four hundred acres. All of which were ultimately taken by the state under eminent domain laws to build a public park, similar to Seneca Village, a community of Black residents that was razed to create Central Park.

One section of this light-suffused series of galleries took on the appearance of a funhouse – or a twisted American amusement park. A place where the monsters don’t only come out at night.

© Dandelion Chandelier.

essential inquiries

Rayyane Tabet has populated the spaces of the Whitney Museum on the occasion of this Biennial with questions from the U.S. naturalization test. Given the current headlines, they prove to be far more provocative and complex than they might seem at first glance. As the artist puts it: “they could be read like concrete poetry or open-ended, contradictory, and often hermetic questions.”

© Dandelion Chandelier.

What to know, review, and photos of the highlights and poignant patriotism on view at the stunning 2022 Whitney Biennial in New York City.

© Dandelion Chandelier.

Photo Credit: Dandelion Chandelier.

Reflect on these and discuss amongst yourselves.

© Dandelion Chandelier.

© Dandelion Chandelier.

What to know, review, and photos of the highlights and poignant patriotism on view at the stunning 2022 Whitney Biennial in New York City.

Photo Credit: Dandelion Chandelier.

what to know before visiting the 2022 Whitney Biennial

The Biennial continues at the Whitney until September 5, 2022. Get your tickets here. That’s what you should know before visiting the Whitney this summer, along with highlights and photos of some of the most memorable works. We hope you see this with your own two eyes, dear reader – it’s essential viewing.

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Pamela Thomas-Graham is the Founder & CEO of Dandelion Chandelier. A Detroit native, she has 3 Harvard degrees and has written 3 mystery novels published by Simon & Schuster. After serving as a senior corporate executive, CEO of CNBC and partner at McKinsey, she now serves on the boards of several tech companies. She loves fashion, Paris, New York, books, contemporary art, running, skiing, coffee, Corgis and violets. 

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