Running concurrent with the Whitney Museum's celebrated "2002 Biennial Exhibition" are four other shows that have taken the opportunity to style themselves as biennials as well. None of them have any official connection to the Whitney, and all are very different from the museum's undertaking. One is a self-described "tiny" biennial, another is a large, all-encompassing biennial that is open to all artists, and the third is a cyberbiennial taking place only on the internet. Lastly, there's a collector's choice biennial.
Begin with the smallest first. The "195 Hudson Street, Apartment 2A Biennial" is a show in a private apartment of two works each by two artists. Our host is Adrian Dannatt, a writer for Flash Art and the Art Newspaper who was also child star of the 1970s BBC children's comedy, "Just William." The artists are Pieter Schoolwerth, who recently showed paintings (including one of a particularly nubile Dannatt) at American Fine Arts, and Ursula Hodel, a Swiss-born video performer who now lives in Brooklyn and has her own website at www.ursulahodel.com. Dannatt's show opened Mar. 2, several days before the Whitney's version, and will close a day later, on May 27. Appointments are necessary to actually visit the show, made by emailing Adannatt@earthlink.net.
In dramatic contrast to Dannatt's tiny biennial, Situationist artist Sal Randolph's "Free Biennial" has so far gathered over 200 artists with its open call for submissions. The catch is that the show is geographically dispersed, with projects, installations, performances, studio and apartment shows, net art and video screenings taking place around the world -- from Japan to Bulgaria to Argentina. More works are still being added to the exhibition, which is slated to take place Apr. 2-30, 2002. Maps and schedules of performances are to be available at the website http://www.freebiennial.org -- once the exhibition gets going.
Among the participants in the "Free Biennial" are new-media artist Tricia McLaughlin, writer Sam Truitt and Fluxus net-artist turned poet and online zine editor Eryk Salvaggio. Peter Coffin, for his submission, has designed bar codes that anyone can print out on labels. If affixed to items in stores and run through the checkout scanner, the bar code reveals text -- "have, take, give, want, lose, need" -- instead of the price, creating culture-jamming poetry.
The third spin-off of the Whitney Biennial, launched on Mar. 7, 2002, is an Internet detournement by Miltos Manetas, the art-world prankster who recently went to some lengths to invent and publicize a new word, "neen" (see Max Henry's Gotham Dispatch). Scamp that he is, Manetas discovered that the web address www.whitneybiennial.com was available, and acquired it himself, turning it into a lively cyberspace for net art.
Visitors to www.whitneybiennial.com find not the website for the Whitney Biennial but rather a growing selection of flash animations by artists. So far, Manetas has posted 19 pages with six works on each. Artists in the exhibition are expected to vote on different works -- good, boring or bad. The skill range of animations varies -- some are made by net-art veterans, others are unknown and in one instance the artist is nine years old.
The section titled "Turntables," created by Michael Rees and Matt Shaw, offers the viewer a chance to interact with different animations with changeable colors, patterns and sounds. Joel Fox, Mai Ueda, Mike Calvert and Angelo Plessas have made fun animations where the viewer gets to control variables such as background, rotation, speed and color of floating strawberries, pink triangular octopuses and pizza. If the screen gets too cluttered with the figures you have the option to "kill all."
Barcodes rule again in the Lot-Ek animation. Their work reads like an advertisement on a bar-code background of what good design should be. There are futuristic modular sleeping lofts, an airplane and stackable, mobile dwelling units. Another work, from 2noodles.com, is an attractive interactive animation of concentric white circles and red shapes that echo from wherever you move your cursor on the gray screen.
It seems that more challenges to the Whitney Biennial are on the way. As we go to press, Elisabeth Franck of the New York Observer reports that collector Norman Dubrow plans to mount his own biennial at Kagan Martos Gallery in SoHo, opening Mar. 25, 2002. Dubrow claims that Whitney curator Lawrence Rinder tried to impress the art world with unknown names, and consequently overlooked all the new talents that had made their mark in the last two years. The Dubrow Biennial will feature 36 artists collected by Dubrow (though borrowed from dealers), including works by Jay Davis, Inka Essenhigh and Malerie Marder. Unlike the Whitney's exhibition, works in Norman's show will be for sale.