February 24, 2010 / 12:47 AM / 9 years ago

New York's Whitney art show mixes creepy, optimistic

NEW YORK (Reuters) - New York’s Whitney Museum unveiled a smaller, more intimate biennial show on Tuesday partly in response to the impact of the economic downturn in the United States.

The museum, which focuses on American art, has helped discover some of the 20th Century’s great artists through its shows, which have become one of the art world’s gauges for current trends and future stars.

Curators Francesco Bonami and Gary Carrion-Murayari avoided a specific theme and deliberately reduced the number of artists to 55 to allow closer audience interaction with the art.

The last biennial, in 2008, came at the peak of “a very distinct bubble in the art market,” said Michael Plummer of Artvest Partners, an art investment advisory firm.

“Now that it has burst, you’re looking at a biennial in a much more sober market,” Plummer said.

The 2010 biennial can be at turns “creepy” and “optimistic,” Bonami said. “Creepy because there is this apparent calm, like the first chapter of a Stephen King novel in which everything looks normal, but you know it’s not.”

Two photographs entitled “Landscape with Houses” by James Casebere portray a mock-up of a dreamlike suburbia of tract houses — a world almost too perfect and one typical of those hit hardest by the foreclosure epidemic.

“This is particular to America. Behind closed doors you can do anything you want, and if you trespass you could get shot,” Bonami said.

Other artworks were clearly political, and crafted in reaction to “the collective frenzy” around the election of Barack Obama as U.S. president, Bonami said.

The pared-down tone of the show also yielded glimpses of optimism.

One artist will invite musicians and shoe-shiners from Chicago to interact with the audience. Another, through a series of photographs, showed the gradual return of normalcy for disfigured Iraq war veteran Ty Ziegel before his marriage.

“We didn’t go in with a theme,” said Carrion-Murayari. “We were hoping to be as responsive as possible to what artists were producing over the past two years. There is a more modest approach to materials because of the economic situation. Artists aren’t able to act on a spectacular scale.”

Editing by Daniel Trotta and Paul Simao

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