Brushing eyes, combing toenails, flossing knees, and buying butts at the supermarket.
Explore How American Art Came to be, From Founding Families to Our Newest Immigrants, at the New Whitney Museum
“America is hard to see.
Less partial witnesses than he
In book on book have testified
They could not see it from outside”
— Robert Frost
The new Whitney Museum, located in the vibrant Meatpacking district of New York City, has finally opened its doors and invited the public in to view one of the largest exhibitions of American art ever assembled. The building, designed by Pritzker Prize-winner architect Renzo Piano and conceived as a laboratory for artists, is as much a piece of art as what lies within its walls. Eight stories tall with numerous outdoor exhibits, galleries and terraces overlooking both the Hudson River and iconic New York City skyline, navigating the building becomes part of the overall experience.
For their inaugural exhibit, the Whitney drew from its permanent gallery to give a comprehensive look at the modern and contemporary art of the United States. Entitled America is Hard to See, taken from a Robert Frost poem, it “examines the themes, ideas, beliefs, visions, and passions that have preoccupied and galvanized American artists over the past one hundred and fifteen years.” Starting on the 8th floor and working down, we are treated to a chonological exploration of American art, starting at the turn of the 20th century all the way to the current year. At its earliest, we see the influences of European art, as well as a post war sense of brokenness. And as America itself is fond of quick progress, the exhibition quickly takes us through Hooper’s Realistic Surrealism, Pollock’s Abstract Expressionism, Lichtenstein’s Pop Art, Basquiat’s Neo Expressionism all the way to our post 9/11, post econmic crash sense of loss and lonliness.
Every museum-goer, from the youngest child to centenarians, will find pieces that relate directly to moments in their lives. Some will make you cringe, such as the exploration of lynchings in the South, post WWII. Others will fill you with a sense of wonder and beauty, exemplified by Chiura Obata’s wonderful woodblock prints.
A change in the new Whitney is to recognize our immigrant influx and have each of them considered “Americans,” regardless of their birth country, opening up a tremendous amount of art, not previously viewed as part of our collective zeitgeist. Indeed, America is hard to see as its definition is blurry but its art is iconic.
WRITTEN BY: HUNT ETHRIDGE
PHOTO CREDIT: WHITNEY MUSEUM OF AMERICAN ART