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At quarter past seven on Wednesday night, the line to the Whitney Biennial opening was already snaking down 75th Street and inching toward Park Avenue. "At least everyone has to wait," one skinny-jeaned VIP snorted as he trudged to the back of the line.

At the cacophonous downstairs reception, artsy types were wedged shoulder-to-shoulder by the bar, nibbling skewered chicken and dodging shards from the wine glasses that seemed to be shattering on the floor every few minutes.

Rachel Chandler, a fresh-faced Whitney intern who moonlights as Beatrice Inn's Tuesday night DJ, was behind the turntables spinning mellow tunes. "A lot of the artists are really nervous so we're trying to play stuff to make them feel better," she said.

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After wandering through the packed galleries—we were especially impressed by Phoebe Washburn's Gatorade-fed ecosystem—we headed to the Biennial's satellite location at the Park Avenue Armory, where large-scale installations and performance art pieces (like a dance-a-thon and "therapy sessions") will be in place through March 23. There, the ubiquitous Yvonne Force Villareal was holding court, wearing a Gap T-shirt designed by artist Rirkrit Tiravanija over her Dolce & Gabbana gown. (Gap is a Biennial sponsor and commissioned 13 artists to create limited-edition shirts.) We also met artist Eduardo Sarabia, who had transformed one room of the Armory into a replica of an illegal bar he owns in East Berlin, complete with chessboard tables and stools resembling elephant feet. The bar, serving Sarabia's own homemade tequila, will be open for business on March 9, 11, 14, and 19.

Photos by Nick Hunt/PatrickMcMullan.com