The Whitney Biennial is a reliable barometer of what's happening in American art, and if you miss this show, you're out of the loop for another two years. Performance is a big part of the exhibition this time around. “It's 50-odd artists, and we feel strongly about representing people in every medium,” says co-curator Jay Sanders. The main show closes a week from Sunday (some programming goes into June), and if you're pressed for time, here's a guide to some of the highlights.
1. K8 HARDY RUNWAY SHOW
Hardy, an artist who works in all media, loves to mine fashion and pop culture. She'll be doing a runway show with real models Sunday at 4 and 5 p.m., to take place on a sculpture by Biennial artist Oscar Tuazon. “It will be a proper show but more like a performance piece, or experimental theater,” Hardy says. Expect some big surprises.
2. FOREST BESS ROOM
The artist Robert Gober has curated a strange and wonderful room full of paintings and unusual medical writings by Bess (1911-1977). Bess — who lived in Texas, away from the art world, and believed he was a hermaphrodite — always wanted his theories and art exhibited together in his lifetime but never got the chance. The works themselves are hauntingly simple abstractions, as universally appealing as anything in the show.
3. NICK MAUSS/CHARLES DEMUTH
Nick Mauss re-created a 1930s room that was designed for the Parisian perfumer Guerlain, decked in golden velvet. Even better, he hung some terrific works from the Whitney's collection on the walls. You can't do better than Charles Demuth's "8 O'Clock” (1917), a tiny watercolor that shows the artist's total mastery of the medium (and makes you wish that more contemporary artists knew how to draw).
4. FREDERICK WISEMAN
The legendary documentarian ("Titicut Follies," "High School”) is the focus of the film program June 6-10. “Boxing Gym” (2010) is Wiseman's in-depth look the patrons of an Austin, Texas, gym. He collected 100 hours of footage and whittled it down to 90 minutes. Knowing Wiseman, it will be an incisive, in-depth take on a subject that most people would take for granted.
5. DAWN KASPER
Kasper has literally put herself on display in the Biennial — her entire studio is re-created on-site, and she works on her projects in person as visitors parade by. Amid a clutter of boxes, electronic equipment, clothes and art, the performance artist is very chatty with crowds. The most frequent question she gets? “Where do you go to the bathroom?”
Whitney Biennial 2012
WHEN|WHERE Through May 27, closed Monday and Tuesday. At the Whitney Museum of American Art, 945 Madison Ave.
INFO $18, 212-570-3600, whitney.org