One of the first things one sees walking onto the third floor of the Whitney at the moment is a small oil painting of a shirtless, dark-haired man posing in front of a dark red background. Titled Madawaska, Acadian Light-Heavy, Third Arrangement, it was painted in 1940 by the great Marsden Hartley, who died in 1943. But here it is in the 2012 biennial.
The man responsible for its presence is the New York artist Nick Mauss, whose main contribution to the show is a recreation of a luxurious antechamber that illustrator Christian Berard designed for the French perfumer Guerlain in 1939. Its interior is a rich golden velvet, and its details are articulated with bits of white and purple cotton. Sumptuous stuff.
Around the installation, Mr. Mauss has hung piece the Hartley, along with a circa 1976 Warhol piece made of four stitched-together photographs of a man in tight bicycle shorts, a 1966 Ellsworth Kelly lithograph called Locust, a 1917 Charles Demuth watercolor, two sketches by Eyre de Lanux, a May Wilson sculpture and a Gary Winogrand snapshot.
An exhibition within the exhibition (a para-pavilion of sorts), it’s one of the show’s most elegant and concise moments–the artist carefully aligning himself with a few of his forebears in terms of style and sensibility. The installation piece is titled Concern, Crush, Desire (2011)–all synonyms, a quick Google search reveals, for “affection.”