The Battle Of The Opening Receptions: Whitney Biennial vs. Brucennial

by Daniel Reynolds · March 1, 2012

For more photos of the Whitney Biennial, go HERE.  For more photos of the Brucennial, go HERE.

It was the battle of the biennials last night on New York's art scene: the exclusive, invite-only opening reception of the Whitney Biennial vs. the populist Brucennial.  Much has been made over the timing of the events. Is the Brucennial, which features artwork from over 376 artists ranging from college students to Damien Hirst, making some sort of challenge to the Whitney, a carefully tailored selection of at least 50 established artists? This writer attended both, and here's how the events and crowds compared.

Biennial vs. Brucennial:

[Photo via and via]


The main problem with large group exhibitions: too many people.  As a result, guests who didn't show up at the starting time for each party had to wait outside on a dreary, cold, miserable night.

Biennial vs. Brucennial:

The difference between the two lines was organization.  The Brucennial was a clusterfuck.  A horde of soggy artists, hipsters, and socialites swarmed around the entrance, desperately calling friends who had already gained admission, shoving their way toward the door guarded by a security guard calling all the shots.  "Thank God!" one participating artist said when she finally muscled her way in, stopping to dry off and pose next to her painting by the door.

Biennial vs. Brucennial:

The Whitney had its shit together.  A team of clipboard-armed employees organized the crowd into a line that wrapped around the corner, but moved ahead at a decent clip.  Unlike The Brucennial, which doesn't require an invite or RSVP, guests were required to have their invitations ready for inspection, so not just any passerby could waltz his way in.  However, the waiting didn't stop once one got inside.  The bar was downstairs, and the only way to access it was a staircase bottlenecked by a huge group of people and patrolled by museum security. Which leads me to...

The Art vs. The Booze

Biennial vs. Brucennial:

Let's face it: for many guests of Opening Receptions, the main attractions are the booze and the people-watching.  The problem the Whitney encountered was that their bar was contained to the lower level, and there just wasn't much art down there.  "This is the party!" one guest commented to me.  "I'll come back later to look at the art," which was a sentiment shared by many others jostling their way to refill their cup with either red or white wine.

In perhaps another important distinction between the two events, the Brucennial forwent wine in favor of cans of PBR, which filled over a dozen large garbage bins circled around the ground floor.  And the art was everywhere.  Spread across four floors, the canvasses stretched up to the ceiling, and by the time the area was packed, it became difficult not to bump into one of the many sculptures filling the floor space.  Or an artist, for that matter. Having the art and the beer together made for greater interaction between the guests and the pieces around them.

I noticed, however, a cache of fine liquor being reserved for select guests.  So even in the seemingly populist atmosphere of the Brucennial, class hierarchy still exists.

The People

Biennial vs. Brucennial:

[Right photo: Vito Schnabel, Bill Powers]

Although there was an overlap between the type of people attending these events (it is the art world, after all), there were clear differences.  The Whitney is a fancy, established, uptown institution, while the Brucennial is basically a downtown pop-up space coughed up by Brooklyn.  While there were a few radically dressed individuals at the Whitney, they stuck out like sore thumbs amidst the preppy sea of blazers, bow ties, stilettos, and cocktail dresses.  The group tended to be older and more distinguished, and boasted such luminaries as Elisabeth Sussman, LaToya Ruby Frazier, Wu Tsang, Baroness Sheri de Borchgrave, Benjamin Provo, Evie Falci, and Lilianna Cavendish.

Biennial vs. Brucennial:

The crowd at Brucennial, among them Mary Kate Olsen, Vito Schnabel, Bill Powers, Terence Koh, John Gordon Gauld, Aurel Schmidt, and Dustin Yellin, was more Bohemian, ranging from the boho-chic of MK, to drag queens, to off-duty fashion models, to the ghostly whimsy of Terence Koh, who sported a white rain ensemble complete with an albino umbrella. "I'm so happy they have bathrooms this year," one woman remarked, recounting stories of guests urinating outside at the last Brucennial, a fact which paints a better picture of this crowd than clothes ever could.

Biennial vs. Brucennial:

[Right photo in white: Terence Koh]

But there were, of course, some colorfully dressed guests at The Whitney, as well:


And though we may be being picky about certain elements, the Opening Receptions for the Brucennial and the Whitney Biennial were both amazing, fabulous events full of art, music, and energy.  Whether you're uptown or downtown, both are certainly worth checking out.

The Whitney Biennial runs though May 27.  For more information, go HERE.

The Brucennial runs through April 20, at 159 Bleecker.  For more information, go HERE.

Brucennial Opening Reception:

[John Gordon Gauld]

[Adriana Atema]

[Nick Etre, Chelsea Burcz, Drew Mckenzie, Graham Hamilton]

[Elizabeth Kelly, Antwan Duncan, Chelsea Burcz]

Whitney Biennial: