One of the most prestigious shows in the contemporary art world — and sometimes one of the most controversial — has just opened at the Whitney Museum of American Art. The 80th Whitney Biennial is titled "Quiet as It's Kept," a colloquial saying signifying at once a Max Roach album from 1959, a phrase employed repeatedly by Toni Morrison and a 2002 exhibition curated by David Hammons.

Delayed a year by the pandemic, the Whitney exhibition is on view now exclusively for members and opens to the general public on April 6th, running through September 5th.

Curators David Breslin and Adrienne Edwards started assembling the show in late 2019, and then raced to keep up as COVID-19, social-justice demonstrations and the presidential election repeatedly shifted the national conversation.

Included are works by 63 artists and collectives, including five already deceased — a fact that draws attention in a show expressly rooted in current affairs. The exhibition comprises paintings, photographs, sculpture, sound-art installations, and film and video displays, as well as items less easily defined as one thing or another. Live performances and dynamic installations designed to change throughout the show's duration urge viewers to consider planning multiple visits.

Immersion into the biennial's offerings begins before you even reach the front door via exterior works by Jason Rhoades and Rayyane Tabet. Inside, glowing Tony Cokes video screens beaming slogans and hanging banners by Renée Green spark contemplation and confrontation instantly. A video installation by Moved by the Motion is tucked away in a ground-floor gallery, soon to be complemented with a large-scale video of Moby Dick with live music at The Shed.

Offerings from Cassandra Press and Terence Nance are sequestered on the third floor, but the vast majority of the biennial's presentations are located on the museum's fifth and sixth floors. Those two settings are designed to contrast sharply. The fifth level is bright and airy, with works mingling atelier-style against white walls. The sixth is dark and labyrinthine: a somber antechamber housing a vial that ostensibly contains Thomas Edison's dying breath and a subliminal soundtrack captured by Raven Chacon near Standing Rock, prefaces a mazelike configuration of black-draped galleries and enclosures.

At a glance, nothing in this newest biennial seems likely to stir the kinds of controversy sparked by the 2017 edition — either intentionally, as in Jordan Wolfson's VR installation Real Violence, or inadvertently, like Dana Schutz's Emmett Till portrait, Open Casket. That's not to say the show avoids conflict outright; 06.01.2020 18.39, a black-box video installation and sensory experience by Alfredo Jaar, is destined to spark debate.

But for the most part, the 2022 Biennial makes even its more polemical points in subtle ways, whether through the discomfiting allure of fabricated Erik Prince portraits by Buck Ellison, the aggressive stature Emily Barker built into theeir eerie domestic tableau, Death by 7,865 Paper Cuts, or the ghoulish consumer-culture critique embedded in two works by Andrew Roberts.

In those instances, and in plenty more besides, the exhibition offers a mix of styles, practices and perspectives that invite contemplation, conversation and return engagements.