The only obviously smashing work on view at the Whitney Biennial is "89 Seconds at Alcazar," a video projection by Eve Sussman. Even if nothing else at the biennial does the trick for you, this one piece might make the entire event worthwhile.
Sussman, born in London in 1961 and now working in Brooklyn, uses a fancy set and costumed actors to stage a 12-minute slice of life at the Spanish royal court, circa 1656. One instant in her looped video depicts the same moment that Velazquez captured in his iconic painting "Las Meninas." The rest of the video depicts the imagined action leading to that moment, as the king and queen prepare to sit for their portrait, and then the dissolution of the momentary grouping Velazquez caught.
The premise behind the famous oil painting is that it represents a simple snapshot of the world, rather than an absolutely artificial view constructed by an artist. And part of its fascination is the evident failure of that premise: Since Velazquez himself is shown standing at his easel in the painting, he can't very well also be the distanced, fly-on-the-wall observer of the scene that the painting's viewpoint implies. For all its almost photographic directness, when you start trying to pull apart what you're looking at in "Las Meninas" it turns out to have a surprising conceptual complexity. The fascination and charm of Sussman's work is that she acts as though that complexity might somehow be worked out. She pretends to take the Old Master's snapshot premise at face value, and forces it to become a moment in a complex cinematic narrative. Both the Velazquez original and Sussman's riff on it profit from their strange encounter.