A 2010 Whitney Biennial Biopsy

05/17/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

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.

Note: Excerpts about each artist are pulled from the Whitney's press materials and link to the full text.
"Scott Short considers the concepts of authorship and reproduction. He begins by photocopying a blank piece of colored construction paper onto a blank piece of standard copy paper--a method that results in seemingly random black-and-white patterns printed on the copy paper. He then copies that copy, repeating the process multiple times and continuing the random patterning process. Once the artist selects a final permutation, the abstract image is then photographed, formatted as a slide, and projected onto a primed canvas. In the final stage, Short painstakingly recreates this image, taking care to remain true to the particular patterns and shapes generated by the machine."

Charles Ray presents a room filled with flower paintings on paper.
"Aurel Schmidt's intricately detailed drawings include objects and creatures such as flies, condoms, and cigarette butts that are pieced together to form larger figures. Master of the Universe: FlexMaster 3000 is a portrait of the Minotaur, the half-man, half-bull mythic creature who represents both creation and destruction."
"The central motif in R.H. Quaytman's series is the Marcel Breuer-designed window in this space, which appears in Quaytman's restaging of the Museum's Edward Hopper painting A Woman in the Sun (1961). The artist K8 Hardy stands in for the woman in the sun. Silkscreened optical patterning attunes viewers to the physical act of perception, while trompe l'oeil depictions of the panel's edges remind the viewer that the paintings are physical objects rather than simply images."