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Surveying the 2010 Whitney Biennial

The Whitney Biennial opened with a big bang on Tuesday night. Despite the pouring rain, artists, critics, curators, and collectors waited in long lines to enter the museum and then lingered for hours to view six floors of contemporary art from the past few years. Without a theme, and simply titled 2010, the succinct survey show, organized by guest curator Francesco Bonami and Whitney associate curator Gary Carrion-Murayari, features work in a variety of media by 55 artists, which is far fewer than the number selected for the esteemed exhibition over the past two decades.

George Condo, The Butcher and His Wife, 2008–09. Bronze, 43 x 48 x 85 in. (109.2 x 121.9 x 215.9 cm). Collection of the artist. Photograph by Ellen Page Wilson

Known as the show that people love to hate, this year’s biennial won’t escape the catchphrase; however, as always, the show includes a number of outstanding works. On the fifth floor, the seasoned artist George Condo, who will be the subject of a 2011 retrospective at the New Museum, gets high marks for his bronze sculpture of a lustful and murderous butcher and his wife. Meanwhile, the best piece on four is Piotr Uklanski’s massive, macramé mural, which is joined by a freestanding, circular canvas, covered in thick red paint.

Josephine Meckseper, Mall of America, 2009. Video, transferred to DVD, color, sound; 12:48 min. Collection of the artist; Courtesy VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

On the third floor, Pae White‘s gigantic tapestry of plumes of smoke competes with rambling hallways connecting darkened rooms of videos, including Josephine Meckseper’s political portrayal of Minneapolis’ Mall of America and Kate Gilmore’s comical view of construction and destruction with a feminist twist.

Nina Berman, Ty With Gun, 2008, from _Marine Wedding_, 2006/2008. Pigment print, 10 x 15 in. (25.4 x 38.1 cm). Collection of the artist

The second level is dominated by Robert Grosvenor‘s enigmatic installation of an enormous, flocked, red sculpture, which is viewed through a curvilinear, aluminum screen, and Nina Berman‘s documentary photos of a disfigured, American marine from the Iraq War marrying his high school sweetheart and adapting to his now difficult life. Also not to be missed on this floor is Ari Marcopoulos’ documentary of two young kids making beats in Detroit, which is screening in the media gallery near the elevators.

Ari Marcopoulos, still from Detroit, 2009. DVD; 7:32 min. loop. Courtesy Ratio 3, San Francisco

Elsewhere, Martin Kersels‘ ground floor installation of assemblages made from found and constructed objects serves as a stage for a performance series that runs throughout the months of the exhibition and Jeffrey Inaba‘s suspended lanterns create a warm ambiance for the new Danny Meyer restaurant, as well as the store, on the museum’s lower level.

Although it’s not the most exciting Whitney Biennial in recent memory — the 2004, Goth-inspired show takes that prize — 2010 offers a lively range of ways that artists are working today.