“It’s nice to have people back, personally, celebrating the art and the next generation of artists,” said Adam Weinberg, director of the Whitney Museum, as he welcomed more than 1,000 guests to celebrate the museum’s 80th biennial on Tuesday.
He had just come from planting a smooch on the cheek of Jack Shear, the photographer, curator and former husband of the late Ellsworth Kelly. Seeing Mr. Weinberg move through the museum lobby was a study in hosting: he ignored no one, hugged friend after friend, artist after artist, donor after donor.
After waiting out on the icy sidewalk, guests headed to the fifth and sixth floors, where an overwhelming collection of artwork was on display. Artists were joined by friends, family, colleagues, fans and the occasional rock star, including Anthony Kiedis and Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
Tommy Kha, a photographer whose work (a portrait of himself as Elvis) caused one noise at the airport in Memphis, accompanied by her friend Pao Houa Her, a selected artist whose work, she said, is “about the Hmong community where I come from in Minnesota. It is also about my own story, my grandmother’s story, my parents’ story. . ”
Nearby, a woman stopped by Miles Greenberg, the performance artist, to compliment him on his Telfar jeans, which had almost no material at the back. “Ventilation,” he said.
By 8pm, when the doors opened to non-VIPs, the galleries were full of (mostly worm-free) visitors. Tonight’s most heard comment? “I have not been around so many people since.…”
It was sometimes difficult to get around. “I can not even navigate this building, because there are so many people,” says Emily Barker, a select artist whose oversized plastic kitchen showed the challenges to people like her, who use wheelchairs. “I had to miss four elevators filled with people that I think most of them can walk.”
Some guests took refuge in a bar set up in a rainbow-colored room on the third floor. Tremaine Emory, the creative director of Supreme, stepped out in her knitted Marni vest. “Art parties are always a bit dry,” said Mr. Emory, who was a guest of the artist Theaster Gates. “I’m going to party, I’m going to dance.”
Back down in the lobby, guests were still arriving, even when others were on their way out.
“I have a circulatory disorder, and it’s being triggered right now,” said artist Chloe Wise, who waited out for an hour in her mother’s Yohji Yamamoto overcoat.
The bars stopped being served around 10pm and guests could be heard planning “for just one more drink.”
It had been four hours since the doors opened and Mr. Weinberg had barely moved. And still hugging. At one point, he stood between two friends, one arm around each, and used them to support himself in apparent exhaustion. Does he never get tired?
“It’s my job,” he said. “I’ve been doing this for 20 years. I’m not going to change.”