The Whitney Museum of American Art was founded by an artist, Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, back in 1931 and since the following year has hosted a series of annuals and biennials meant to show off the country’s newest art. For the 79th installment of the Whitney Biennial, which opens May 17, curators Jane Panetta and Rujeko Hockley made some 300 studio visits before anointing 75 artists and collectives. “We went into it very open-ended,” Hockley says.
“We didn’t have a set idea—we were really being led by the artists.” Suffice it to say, the biennial will never satisfy everyone, but following are a handful of the entries, all first-timers, we’re most excited to see.
The storefronts and other buildings in Miami’s Little Haiti depicted in Arroyo’s colorful but melancholy paintings are so specific that their addresses serve as titles. “He’s really thinking about gentrification, changing neighborhoods and displacement as developers move in,” Hockley says.
At 84, the suburban Chicago sculptor is the oldest artist in a biennial that skews young. “She was on our ooh-yeah- let’s-meet-her list,” says Hockley. “She’s a really singular artist. Her work is influenced by architecture, construction and building, and she makes all the work herself.” Simpson scored prime real estate: Her site-specific installation will occupy the museum’s lobby gallery.
With the cheeky title Reparation Hardware and a dose of humor, the Brooklyn and Williamstown, Mass.–based artist’s biennial video uses the studied rustic aesthetic popularized by Restoration Hardware, where she shot some of her footage, to consider our aspirations and how we process the past. At 28, Harris-Babou is the youngest artist in the show.
The New York-born Ga lives in Stockholm, where in recent years she became deeply concerned about the migrant crisis in Europe, leading her to volunteer in Greece. There she ended up shooting footage for a film installation about migration. “The Mediterranean has been a crossing point for people for millennia,” Hockley says. “Though we frame it as something new, it’s not.”
Known for his thought-provoking photographs of heads concealed by do-rags or hoods, Edmonds investigates the inextricable link between images and racial identity. At the biennial, the Yale-educated, Brooklyn-based artist will show a continuation of his “Tribe: Act One” series, which combines portraits and still lifes of African masks.