The first thing you need to know about the Whitney Biennial is that it doesn’t mean anything. Sure, it provides a window, albeit a highly selective one, into that confusing subset of culture known as “the art world.” As such, its interest is primarily sociological. The Whitney may tout its “signature exhibition” as a “site of contention, conversation and debate,” but it’s less about “rewrit[ing] standard narratives” than a confirmation of establishment taste. If you’re curious about some of the ideas filtering through contemporary artistic thought—about “contradictory layers of synthetic nothingness,” “widespread opposition to top down systems of rigid authority,” and, er, “looping ropes and threads of rancid oily cum”—the Biennial is the place to go.

If that isn’t sufficiently diverting, you can ponder whether the...


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