“It’s nice to have people back, in person, celebrating art and the next-generation artists,” said Adam Weinberg, the 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. to watch mr. Weinberg move through the museum’s lobby was a study in hosting: he ignored no one, hugging friend after friend, artist after artist, donor after donor.
After waiting outside on the freezing sidewalk, guests made their way to the fifth and sixth floors, where an overwhelming assemblage of artworks 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 a hubbub at the Memphis airport, accompanied his friend Pao Houa Her, a featured artist whose work, she said, is “about the Hmong community where I’m from in Minnesota. It’s also about my own history, my grandmother’s history, my parents’ history.”
Nearby, a woman stopped Miles Greenberg, the performance artist, to compliment him on his Telfar jeans, which were almost without material in the rear. “Ventilation,” he said.
By 8 pm, when doors were open to non-VIPs, the galleries were packed with (mostly mask-free) visitors. The most overheard comment of the night? “I haven’t been around so many people since. †
It was difficult at times to get around. “I can’t even navigate this building, because there’s so many people,” said Emily Barker, a featured artist whose oversize plastic kitchen demonstrated the challenges for people like her, who use a wheelchair. “I had to miss four elevators filled with people who I think most of them can walk.”
Some guests took refuge at a bar set up in a rainbow-hued room on the third floor. Tremaine Emory, the creative director of Supreme, stood out in his knit Marni vest. “Art parties are always a bit dry,” said Mr. Emory, who was a guest of the artist Theaster Gates. “I think party, I think dancing.”
Back down in the lobby, guests were still arriving, even as others were making their way out.
“I have a circulation disorder, and it’s being triggered right now,” said the artist Chloe Wise, who waited outside for an hour in her mother’s Yohji Yamamoto overcoat.
The bars stopped served around 10 pm, and guests could be heard making plans “for just one more drink.”
It had been four hours since the doors had opened, and Mr. Weinberg barely moved. And was still hugging. At one point, he stood between two friends, one arm around each, and used them to support himself in mock exhaustion. Does he never tire?
“It’s my job,” he said. “I’ve been doing this for 20 years. I’m not going to change.”