The 2012 Whitney Biennial, presenting a wide variety of artists, offers access to performance-based work in an interactive and immersive way. The Whitney dedicated 6,000 square feet of their fourth floor to performance, the most space the museum has ever offered to the medium. Artists in residence Sarah Michelson and Michael Clark are currently occupying the fourth floor, while also offering events after hours for an additional fee to the cost of museum admission. But during regular open hours, museum-goers can find dynamic performances that change throughout the day. During my visit, I witnessed a performance that seemed like preparation for a performance to come: dancers in gym clothing stretched and rehearsed on a white painted floor depicting a diagram of a floor plan. One dancer listened to headphones while warming up, another stretched on the ground near the audience with an open gym bag and towel beside him. Viewers watched from risers on one side of the space, or from behind, where one can also find the artists' dressing room. In the dressing room, enclosed by translucent, lattice-like walls, the artists are on view as they put on their make-up and costumes, which include horse-head masks and simple white clothing. The viewer-as-voyeur is given the choice to watch the dancers as they prepare themselves. The organization of the fourth floor makes the entire performance process transparent, but might leave the viewer wishing for more action and excitement.
Resident artist, Dawn Kasper has moved her studio onto the Whitney's third floor as part of her Nomadic Studio Practice Experiment. Costumes, books, drawings, musical instruments, art supplies and electronics fill the cluttered space. An unstretched canvas hangs on the wall with painted black lettering that reads: THIS COULD BE SOMETHING IF I LET IT. Kasper can be found inside her installation or wandering the museum during open hours, and invites guests into her public studio. She says, "I'm inviting people to come and interact with me. People can come in… and draw with me, or do collage, or even bring their computer[s]". Whether Kasper is enacting a planned performance or simply working in her studio, she is always performing and encourages her audience to join her. Unfortunately, she wasn't in her studio during my visit, and without her presence, her installation left me uninterested.
The Whitney Biennial is not a static museum experience but instead is dynamic, as performance artists shift and move about, continuously in motion. Resident artists carry out their work on site and challenge the traditional concept of performance by taking it off stage and behind the scenes. While this unusual curatorial approach may be interesting conceptually, the performances themselves can be dull and uneventful depending on when you happen to catch them.