In their opening remarks, the 2010 Whitney Biennial curators Francesco Bonami and Gary Carrion-Murayari confessed that they approached the selection process (gasp) open-mindedly, without a preconceived theme. Fortunately, the exhibition itself faithfully reflects their intent, presenting a resonant sampling of contemporary art practice. That is not to say that the show selection is thematically unfocused or ungrounded. To the contrary, much of the work manifests a rediscovered attention to physicality in various ways: in its preoccupation with human vulnerability, in its juxtaposition of figuration and geometry, or simply in its palpable materiality. Notable examples include "H.M. 2009," Kerry Tribe's double film projection about an epilepsy patient who lost his short-term memory in experimental brain surgery and Nina Berman's arresting images of former Marine sergeant Ty Ziegel, who was severely disfigured in a suicide bombing in Iraq; R.H. Quaytman's series "Distracting Distance," which riffs on the physical act of perception; and Suzan Frecon's huge minimalist paintings, which embrace the labor intensity of making an art object that is intended to last.
Other work has a more tangential but still evident connection to the body. A case in point: the Bruce High Quality Foundation's projection of a sardonic video on American history onto the windshield of an old hearse. The overarching emphasis on the body, combined with provocative content, signals an optimistic new direction that reframes two enduringly important aspects of contemporary art: the senses and the visual, as opposed to merely the cerebral; and collective optimism, as distinct from unbounded egos.
Unlike the last Biennial, which offered very few canvases, 2010 features paintings around every corner. In line with the broader theme of physicality, the inclusion of so much painting signals the importance of sustained physical engagement and a renewed interest in the lifespan of the art object. Here are images from the eighteen painters (and artists who use related media) included in 2010--an impressive, thoughtfully curated exhibition.
"2010: The Whitney Biennial," Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY. Through May 30, 2010.