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Whitney Biennial, a showcase of American contemporary arts, is returning to NYC

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

The longest-running and one of the most important showcases for American contemporary art is the Whitney Biennial. It's returning next week to New York City, and this year, NPR's Jennifer Vanasco says the exhibition reflects a conversation.

JENNIFER VANASCO, BYLINE: Biennials are a way to take the current pulse of the art world. They're not about what audiences will buy but what artists are thinking about.

MEG ONLI: The Whitney Biennial, for me, is a place where discourse can really occur.

VANASCO: Meg Onli is one of two curators this year for the biennial. It's titled "Even Better Than The Real Thing" and it stretches across several floors.

ONLI: We wanted to make a show that really spoke to the time, that spoke to ideas of precarity, reflecting our moment in which we're at an inflection point of AI technology, questioning ideas of what is real, and body autonomy.

VANASCO: She says one of the pieces where bodies and technology really come together is...

ONLI: A new installation by the artist Nikita Gale.

VANASCO: A grand piano sits in a dim room. Now and then, the lights come up and though you see the kids moving, supposedly playing a song by a pop musician, what you hear is this.

(SOUNDBITE OF PIANO KEYS CLICKING)

VANASCO: That's right - no music, just amplified keys.

ONLI: They're thinking a lot through ideas of appropriation, sampling and how that pertains to the history of entertainers, particularly Black entertainers.

VANASCO: It's haunting, Onli says.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

NIKITA GALE: I became really curious about this notion of sound or music as property.

VANASCO: This is from an interview Nikita Gale did with the Whitney for their audio guide.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GALE: Property that can be licensed, property that can be legally protected. And yet it's the product of typically an immense amount of labor, a lot of which there are no set legal protections for.

VANASCO: Gale says in her piece, though you can't hear the music, you can see traces of that labor, all those keys pressing down. The performer is invisible, but their impact is thunderous.

(SOUNDBITE OF PIANO KEYS CLICKING)

VANASCO: Jennifer Vanasco, NPR News, New York.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Jennifer Vanasco
Jennifer Vanasco is an editor on the NPR Culture Desk, where she also reports on theater, visual arts, cultural institutions, the intersection of tech/culture and the economics of the arts.