Whitney Biennial 2022: 
Quiet as It’s Kept

Apr 6–Oct 16, 2022

The Whitney Biennial has surveyed the landscape of American art, reflecting and shaping the cultural conversation, since 1932. The eightieth edition of the landmark exhibition is co-curated by David Breslin, DeMartini Family Curator and Director of Curatorial Initiatives, and Adrienne Edwards, Engell Speyer Family Curator and Director of Curatorial Affairs. Titled Quiet as It’s Kept, the 2022 Biennial features an intergenerational and interdisciplinary group of sixty-three artists and collectives whose dynamic works reflect the challenges, complexities, and possibilities of the American experience today.

Read more about the exhibition in a statement by the curators.

View performance series.

En Español

Desde 1932, la Bienal del Whitney ha examinado el panorama del arte estadounidense, reflejando y dando forma a la conversación cultural. La octogésima edición de esta emblemática exhibición está co-curada por David Breslin y Adrienne Edwards. La Bienal 2022 titulada: Quiet as It's Kept (Aunque nadie diga nada), presenta un grupo intergeneracional e interdisciplinario de sesenta y tres artistas y colectivos, cuyas dinámicas obras reflejan los retos, complejidades y posibilidades de la experiencia americana actual.

Nos complace ofrecer los siguientes recursos y programas en español para la Bienal 2022: una guía portátil, traducciones de todos los videos relacionados a la exposición, visitas guiadas gratuitas de la exposición, y visitas guiadas gratuitas para las escuelas públicas de la ciudad de Nueva York. Todos los textos descriptivos de la exposición estarán en inglés y español en el Museo.


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James Little


Floors 5 and 6

Born 1952 in Memphis, TN
Lives in New York, NY

James Little is known for making hard-edge geometric abstract paintings such as those on view here. After moving to New York in the 1970s, he was part of a dynamic group of Black artists who were deeply committed to abstraction, including Ed Clark, William T. Williams, Al Loving, Jack Whitten, and Stanley Whitney. As he has written: “What I ascribe to in my art are modernist tenets, without replication or appropriation. I’m not trying to reinvent the wheel. I’m just trying to improve on it. Modernism to me is like democracy. They’re these fragile experiments, these fragile structures that have held up, and they have to keep being supported one way or another, aesthetically or politically. Abstraction provided me with self-determination and free will. It was liberating. I don’t find freedom in any other form. People like to have an answer before they have the experience. Abstraction doesn’t offer you that. It’s up to you. You have to determine the outcome for yourself. That’s why I do it.”

Borrowed Times, 2021

  • 0:00

    James Little, Joyful Austerity


    Narrator: Artist James Little.

    James Little: I don’t find self-expression, and freedom of expression, self-determination in any other form other than abstraction. You want to know why I did this, how did I do it, and what does it take to arrive at a point like this and, it takes a lot of pain . . . takes a lot of discrimination it’s a big struggle, it takes a lot of hope and determination, and those are the things that I try to bring to my painting.

    Modernism to me is like democracy. You know it’s these fragile experiments, these fragile structures that have held up and they have to keep being supported one way or another aesthetically or politically. But they are structures and so that’s one of the things that I try to pursue in my art. I always go for structure.

    It has to have a feeling. But the thing that makes it work in the end, is whether or not it has synthesis.

    An artist, to me, is just a conduit. I mean information is here . . . it travels through him so that we can get this art.

  • 0:00

    James Little, Exceptional Blacks


    Narrator: James Little grew up in Memphis, Tennessee, in the 1950s. He and his siblings were prohibited from attending the school right across the street from their house; it was restricted to white students only. His parents taught him lessons about survival in the segregated south.

    James Little: I mean the way I grew up you’re not encouraged to become a visual artist. You know that’s off the charts—that’s not even an argument. You try to learn something practical. Because your whole thing is to try to get financial security.

    Narrator: After earning an MFA at Syracuse University, Little moved to New York and delved into modernism and his career as an abstract painter. He’s been painting for nearly fifty years since then. Recently, Whitney curator Adrienne Edwards visited him in his studio and talked to him about how he makes his white paintings like this one:

    Adrienne Edwards: So, Mr. Little. Will you about how you make those white paintings?

    James Little: Okay I’m gonna give you, step-by-step technique. So if you took a piece of paper and you want to draw some circles and you cut them out okay so, then you have a stencil. What’s left is a reversal. So I take what you cut out, put it on the canvas after I worked the surface, put it on the canvas, I may paint over it then I’ll take it up. So what I take up is what you see.

    Adrienne Edwards: Do you paint, sort of all over? The variation in color?

    James Little: Not the same color.

    Adrienne Edwards: No, no, I know, but is it the total surface of the canvas?

    James Little: I only want the shape of what was there. It could be a square or circle or triangle or or whatever.

    Adrienne Edwards: And then you paint it white.

    James Little: No, I paint over it take it up.

    Adrienne Edwards: I see.

    James Little: And then I allow it to dry and I go back over. I go over the white surface with something else or color or mark making or whatever and I’ll use another shape. Over that, and I’ll paint over that shape and put it up, so I get another effect, so I have two layers. So then I’ll decide on a combination of colors. And textures and surfaces, and I will find another shape to put down. Now paint over it. But I don’t stop there, I have to mix the liquid paint make the paint into a liquid form and I pour it. And I have to leave it there for a couple of days to set. So, then, I came back and I removed the last shape from the canvas and then everything I did before that is what you look at when you look through those shapes.

    Adrienne Edwards: Amazing.

    James Little: I have to think about the colors all the way through from the first layer to the last one. So I gotta try to figure out how to organize it, so the painting has to move and you look at each painting it’s almost like a symphony.


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Audio guides

Hear directly from artists and curators on selected works from the exhibition.

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Exhibition Catalogue

The 2022 Whitney Biennial is accompanied by this landmark volume. Each of the Biennial’s participants is represented by a selected exhibition history, a bibliography, and imagery complemented by a personal statement or interview that foregrounds the artist’s own voice. Essays by the curators and other contributors elucidate themes of the exhibition and discuss the participants. The 2022 Biennial’s two curators, David Breslin and Adrienne Edwards, are known for their close collaboration with living artists. Coming after several years of seismic upheaval in and beyond the cultural, social, and political landscapes, this catalogue will offer a new take on the storied institution of the Biennial while continuing to serve—as previous editions have—as an invaluable resource on present-day trends in contemporary art in the United States.

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Explore works from this exhibition
in the Whitney's collection

View 33 works

In the News

"After three years of soul-rattling history, this year’s survey at the Whitney Museum of American Art is reflective and adult-thinking."—The New York Times

". . . the exhibition offers a mix of styles, practices and perspectives that invite contemplation, conversation and return engagements."—Gothamist

". . . a tender, understated survey of the American art scene as it stands right now that also acts as a means of processing the grief of the last two years."ARTnews

". . . if this Biennial doesn’t feel quite like it can let itself go fully wild, there is also a quiet weirdness to it that sincerely reflects the disorienting headspace of the present, and that is worth the trip."Artnet News

"Delayed for a year by the pandemic, the show is exciting without being especially pleasurable—it’s geared toward thought."The New Yorker

". . . the show feels serious and thoughtful throughout, as if dire times require us to forgo old strategies of confrontation and performative anger and get down to the hard work of understanding the world."—The Washington Post

"Revelling in difference—not just of opinion but of style, focus, and approach, it pushes for meaningful exchanges between objects and viewers alike."—Ocula

"An ambitious survey of American art that locates both hope and precarity in the mutability of the present moment."—4Columns

"The 63 artists’ works interact with one another, offering alinear, yet continuous conversation through the psyche and also the pits of our stomachs."—Flaunt

"The exhibition mimics the range of emotions we felt during the past two years, from fear and pain to joy and hope, and everything in between."—Time Out New York

". . . this year’s offering, even with the inclusion of deceased artists, radiates with the power of now."—Vulture

Curatorial Statement
By David Breslin and Adrienne Edwards

Since the start of the pandemic, time has expanded, contracted, suspended, and blurred—often in dizzying succession. We began planning this Biennial in late 2019: before Covid and its reeling effects, before the uprisings demanding racial justice, before the widespread questioning of institutions and their structures, before the 2020 presidential election. Although underlying conditions are not new, their overlap, their intensity, and their sheer ubiquity created a context in which past, present, and future folded into one another. We organized this Biennial to reflect these precarious and improvised times. Many artists’ contributions are dynamic, taking different forms during the course of the exhibition. Artworks change, walls move, and performances animate the galleries and surrounding objects. The spaces of the Biennial contrast significantly, acknowledging the acute polarity of our society. One floor is a labyrinth, a dark space of containment; another is a clearing, open and light filled.

Rather than offering a unified theme, we pursue a series of hunches throughout the exhibition: that abstraction demonstrates a tremendous capacity to create, share, and sometimes withhold meaning; that research-driven conceptual art can combine the lushness of ideas and materiality; that personal narratives sifted through political, literary, and pop cultures can address larger social frameworks; that artworks can complicate the meaning of “American” by addressing the country’s physical and psychological boundaries; and that our present moment can be reimagined by engaging with under-recognized artistic models and artists we have lost. Deliberately intergenerational and interdisciplinary, this Biennial proposes that cultural, aesthetic, and political possibility begins with meaningful exchange and reciprocity.

The subtitle of this Biennial, Quiet as It’s Kept, is a colloquialism. We were inspired by the ways novelist Toni Morrison, jazz drummer Max Roach, and artist David Hammons have invoked it in their works. The phrase is typically said prior to something—often obvious—that should be kept secret. We also adorned the exhibition with a symbol, ) (, from a N. H. Pritchard poem, on view in the exhibition, as a gesture toward openness and interlude. All of the Whitney’s Biennials serve as forums for artists, and the works on view reflect their enigmas, the things that perplex them, and the important questions they are asking. But each of the Biennials also exists as an institutional statement, and every team of curators is entrusted with making an exhibition that resides within the Museum’s history, collection, and reputation. In its eightieth iteration, the Biennial continues to function as an ongoing experiment.

Whitney Biennial 2022: Quiet as It's Kept is co-organized by David Breslin, DeMartini Family Curator and Director of Curatorial Initiatives, and Adrienne Edwards, Engell Speyer Family Curator and Director of Curatorial Affairs, with Mia Matthias, Curatorial Assistant; Gabriel Almeida Baroja, Curatorial Project Assistant; and Margaret Kross, former Senior Curatorial Assistant.

Whitney Biennial 2022: Quiet as It's Kept is presented by


Generous support is provided by


Generous support is also provided by Judy Hart Angelo; The Brown Foundation, Inc., of Houston; Elaine Graham Weitzen Foundation for Fine Arts; Lise and Michael Evans; John R. Eckel, Jr. Foundation; Kevin and Rosemary McNeely, Manitou Fund; The Philip and Janice Levin Foundation; The Rosenkranz Foundation; Anne-Cecilie Engell Speyer and Robert Speyer; and the Whitney's National Committee.

Major support is provided by The Keith Haring Foundation Exhibition Fund, the Pollock-Krasner Foundation, and an anonymous donor.

Significant support is provided by 2022 Biennial Committee Co-Chairs: Jill Bikoff, Beth Rudin DeWoody, Barbara and Michael Gamson, Miyoung Lee, Bernard Lumpkin, Julie Mehretu, Fred Wilson; 2022 Biennial Committee Members: Philip Aarons and Shelley Fox Aarons, Sarah Arison and Thomas Wilhelm, Candy and Michael Barasch, James Keith (JK) Brown and Eric Diefenbach, Eleanor and Bobby Cayre, Alexandre and Lori Chemla, Suzanne and Bob Cochran, Jenny Brorsen and Richard DeMartini, Fairfax Dorn and Marc Glimcher, Stephen Dull, Martin and Rebecca Eisenberg, Melanie Shorin and Greg S. Feldman, Jeffrey & Leslie Fischer Family Foundation, Cindy and Mark Galant, Christy and Bill Gautreaux, Debra and Jeffrey Geller Family Foundation, Aline and Gregory Gooding, Janet and Paul Hobby, Harry Hu, Peter H. Kahng, Michèle Gerber Klein, Ashley Leeds and Christopher Harland, Dawn and David Lenhardt, Jason Li, Marjorie Mayrock, Stacey and Robert Morse, Daniel Nadler, Opatrny Family Foundation, Orentreich Family Foundation, Nancy and Fred Poses, Marylin Prince, Eleanor Heyman Propp, George Wells and Manfred Rantner, Martha Records and Richard Rainaldi, Katie and Amnon Rodan, Jonathan M. Rozoff, Linda and Andrew Safran, Subhadra and Rohit Sahni, Erica and Joseph Samuels, Carol and Lawrence Saper, Allison Wiener and Jeffrey Schackner, Jack Shear, Annette and Paul Smith, the Stanley and Joyce Black Family Foundation, Robert Stilin, Rob and Eric Thomas-Suwall, and Patricia Villareal and Tom Leatherbury; as well as the Alex Katz Foundation, Further Forward Foundation, the Kapadia Equity Fund, Gloria H. Spivak, and an anonymous donor.

Funding is also provided by special Biennial endowments created by Melva Bucksbaum, Emily Fisher Landau, Leonard A. Lauder, and Fern and Lenard Tessler. 

Curatorial research and travel for this exhibition were funded by an endowment established by Rosina Lee Yue and Bert A. Lies, Jr., MD.

New York magazine is the exclusive media sponsor.

More from this series

Learn more about the Whitney Biennial, the longest-running survey of American art.