Thursday, January 28, 2016

A visit to the new Whitney


I had come to New York to revisit the High Line. But among the many changes that have come to pass in the ten years since the opening of that unique and influential park one of the more momentous is the decision by the Whitney Museum of American art to move there. It opened its shiny new glass doors a year ago, attached to the southern end of the High Line. I might have gone to it anyway, but the new location made it a must.

Approaching it as I did from the High Line, I have to admit that the building was disappointing. It had an industrial character that may have been deliberate, considering the (fast-fading) history of the neighborhood. But it seemed like a missed opportunity to me. I am not alone thinking this. None other than Michael Kimmelman, architecture critic of the NY Times, says, “The new museum isn’t a masterpiece.”

But once inside it clearly served its primary purpose, which is to showcase art. Eschewing the elevator, I walked up the stairs in order to enjoy the 5-story tall installation by Felix Gonzalez-Torres that filled the stairwell.

The prize at the top of the climb was “the most comprehensive American retrospective to date” of Frank Stella’s nearly sixty-year career. If you, like me, remember Stella mostly for his early paintings (eg. above), which were very flat and spare, you would, like me, be a bit overwhelmed by the exuberance of his more recent works, which have become increasingly sculptural (eg. below).

I’ll come back to Frank Stella. First, I climbed yet another staircase to reach the permanent collection. There I rediscovered many old familiar friends, the Hoppers, O’Keeffe, Stuart Davis, et al.

I’ll highlight just a few beginning with the other Stella, Joseph, whose iconic “Brooklyn Bridge” holds pride of place in the central gallery.

I include George Tooker's "The Subway" as a sentimental favorite that I hadn't seen for many years.

"Quarantania," by Louise Bourgeois (detail), was one of her earliest painted wood sculptures. Curiously, a few days after seeing this I saw a nearly identical variation of it at MoMA. (Stay tuned for that.)

Along with the familiar artists I was delighted to discover a number of interesting new ones. Hedda Sterne's painting, titled simply "New York, NY," appealed to me for its (coincidental--painted in 1955) resonance with the girders and constant construction going on all along the High Line below. 

I love this gaudily ornamented "tree" by a completely unfamiliar Algerian artist, Philippe Parreno, along with its clever title: "Fraught Times: For Eleven Months of the Year its an Artwork, and in December it's Christmas."

Parreno collaborated with another artist, Rirkrit Tiravanija, from Argentina, to create this series of expressive puppets sitting in the corner of the gallery.

Is it a bouquet of flowers? Yes. Is it art? Well, it's in the Whitney, on a pedestal that is considered to be an integral part of the sculpture. Along with the accompanying text panel, naturally, though I've left it out of the photo. By a Dutch duo: Jeroen de Rijka and Willem de Rooij. Do I take it seriously? Actually, yes, as I'm particularly fond of the intersection of art and nature, or natural vs. artificial. (Witness the High Line!)

I was introduced to Ruth Asawa's work by an exhibit at the de Young Museum in San Francisco a few years ago. It was nice to see another one here. It looks like basketry, but is made of wire. 

This was one of the bigger surprises of the visit, not because I found it intriguing but because I did not recognize it as a Jeff Koons. A photo collage, it is enormous, which doesn't come across in reproduction.

Back to Frank Stella and speaking of enormous, there was one billboard-scale painting of his that I couldn't get in a single photo. (I made a video of it with my phone, above, but, being a luddite, don't know how to upload it so that you can view it. I welcome tutelage.)

Here are a few other examples from the Stella exhibit.

A couple of the Stella sculptures were installed on one of several outdoor terraces. 

The terraces are one of the better features of the new Whitney. They take advantage of the location by overlooking the High Line. 

This was on Friday, before the big blizzard hit on Saturday. If you want to see what I did during the blizzard, go to my Urban Wilderness blog post. And tune in again for my review of the Picasso show at MoMA.

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