A Wide Swath of Americana

Queer, quirky, also solemn, the Whitney Biennial promises a fun jaunt as the city thaws

The 2004 Whitney Biennial exhibition showcases the new work of 108 American artists and collaborative groups from across three generations.

The collection includes young emerging artists such as Banks Violette, Wade Guyton, and Emily Jacir; mid-career artists including Jim Hodges, James Siena, and Amy Sillman; and artists who came to prominence from the 1960s through the 80s, including David Hockney, Robert Mangold, Paul McCarthy, and Richard Prince.

This year, the exhibition is well balanced between painting, sculpture, installation, and video.

Not surprisingly, this Biennial is presenting the overlapping intergenerational themes in American art. There is much reinterpreting of the art, popular culture, and political engagement of the 60s and 70s. There is a bend toward the era’s psychedelic furniture stores cum installations, obsessive art practices, and warped window-dressed sculptural spaces.

From the large fantastic landscapes by Laura Owens, to the obsessive cut-out trees by Jim Hodges, there is a “funhouse on acid” aspect to the show, including a light show, as well as an endless light room installation by Yayoi Kusama and music installations. Other highlights include five stylish photographs by Jack Pierson of beautiful men and boys, an installation by the group assume vivid astro, a Raymond Pettibon drawing of fireworks, and a Dave Muller wall installation tracing a time line of rock music.

Although most of the work conveys a certain hip appeal, it does so without cynicism and with a collegial respect for artistic interpretation.

However, though this show is one of the better retrospectives in recent years, the work on display nevertheless smacks of art consciously mannered to reflect a certain bland appeal. The result suggests more co-optation than a well-landed punch.

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