The very best of the art world (and their plus-ones) showed up for the preview of the Whitney Biennial, 2010, on Tuesday night. The weather did not accommodate, although it gave guests plenty to lackadaisically complain about. The rain precipitated a line at the door, where bewildered staff doubled as bouncers, checking names on iPods and rejecting guests, even the elderly, as they rushed the entrance. The museum's elevators were blocked by the convergence of the line for the coat check and the line to the cocktail reception in the basement, making it impossible to move in any direction except for up—or for nervous artists to obtain a sip of water. Ascending five flights of stairs on foot, Jeffrey Deitch stopped only for a brief moment to catch his breath before he began to loop around the galleries.

The 2010 Biennial represents, as ever, the best of American art, and includes the work of 55 artists. The exhibition claims to favor no medium, or aesthetic style—although at the dinner the night before at a strange Mexican restaurant on the Upper East Side, artists showed a certain level of competitiveness about what floor they'd been put on, the ultimate loss being installation of the third floor, the floor for film and new media. On the second floor, artists dealing with a kind of outsider figuration—George Condo, Huma Bhabha, Aurel Schmidt, Robert Williams—were all crammed together into a back chamber. LEFT: MASSIMO DE CARLO, FRANCESCA KAUFFMANN, MASSIMILIANO GIONI. PHOTO BY BRIENNE WALSH

The other bias, coinciding with the show's modest "theme," and endlessly cited by the artists, was the cheapness of production—savings on pulled pork for dinner, but also on shipping.  Lighting and framing were both matters for considerable debate here.

Inevitably for a museum opening, the art itself took second stage to the cattle call of handshakes and air kisses. The only place to engage anyone was in the populated stairwells, where Philippe Vergne, Terry Richardson and Massimiliano Gioni breezed by Robert Verdi, who was perched on a concrete bench, resting in between floors. Whose plus-one was he?

At a remove from the flashbulbs and diverted eyes in the upper galleries, Martin Kersels sat on his installation in the lobby. The piece consists of five separate sculptures that will serve as the stage for a 12-part performance program during the run of the Biennial. The niche behind the lobby elevators was eerily calm, and Kersels joked about his work with stray wanderers.

Many such strays would move onto the Carlyle—and when that filled up, there was the Pleiades a block over. Ari Marcopoulos did the truly art-world thing by flying down to SoHo for dinner at sushi hang-out Omen, and back up to Midtown to host an after-party at the Tommy Hilfiger store. It's a tough life for the rained-out VIP.


2010 IS ON VIEW THROUGH MAY 30. THE WHITNEY IS LOCATED AT 945 MADISON AVENUE, NEW YORK. SEE OUR BIENNIAL COVERAGE VIA ARTIST PROFILES: LORRAINE O'GRADY, LESLEY VANCE AND BABETTE MANGOLTE.