April 25, 2015

"America Is Hard To See" Opens the "New" Whitney

In five short days New York City will have yet another jewel in its crown of world class museums and art institutions!  That is when the Whitney Museum of American Art opens its brand new space in the heart of the Meatpacking District.  I had the good fortune to receive an invitation to the opening party and last night I donned the requested "festive attire" and rode the subway downtown to the preview!

It was quite an event!  Guests were lined up not just down the block on Gansevoort Street, but across the road and down the highway that runs along the Hudson River.  Despite it being a rather chilly April evening, we joined the queue and were inside the incredible new space within just a few minutes.

Designed by renowned architect Renzo Piano, the new Whitney is a vision of steel and glass nestled at the base of the High Line, surrounded by chic boutiques and restaurants and a few remaining meat markets.  I am not always a fan of Renzo Piano, but this building is splendid.  From the outside it appears stately yet approachable, and the inside is spacious, light and easy to navigate.  Most of the eight stories are gallery space and there are several opportunities to step outside to admire the amazing views.

Founded in 1930 by Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney to showcase her collection of American Art, the museum first opened its doors on West Eighth Street in Greenwich Village.  By 1954 it had relocated to West 54th Street and twelve years later moved into a Marcel Breuer designed building on Madison Avenue at 75th Street.  In recent years the Whitney had both outgrown these premises but also felt that it would better serve its visitor base from a location in a more hip neighborhood.  Negotiations with the City and then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg resulted in the Whitney receiving a plot of land at 99 Gansevoort Street, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art agreeing to take over the Breuer building to house their contemporary art galleries.  It was a win-win situation!

From Friday, May 1st, 2015, visitors will be able to enjoy the Whitney's impressive collection of art by American artists in thoughtfully designed exhibition spaces that really show off the works on view.  Floor to ceiling windows (with computer controlled shades) allow both natural light and a panoramic vista from the Freedom Tower to the Statue to Liberty to the Empire State Building.   Outdoor terraces offer a cafe and chairs where one can sit and watch over the High Line below.  There is a restaurant on the ground floor, an auditorium and an education center.  And, oh yes, there's art - and lots of it!

The opening exhibition's title "America is Hard to See" is taken from a line in a Robert Frost poem and is particularly appropriate.  With 600 works, featuring 400 artists, drawn from the Whitney's holdings of over 21,000 pieces, the exhibition clearly demonstrates the depth and variety of American art through the ages.  Arranged chronologically from the top floor down, are national icons mixed in with some lesser known but still very compelling works.  Art world superstars like Edward Hopper, Georgia O'Keeffe, Andrew Wyeth, Alexander Calder, George Segal, George Bellows, Ed Ruscha and Roy Lichtenstein are represented in paintings, sculptures, drawings and prints that showcase the very essence of the American art scene from 1900 to the present.

Georgia O'Keeffe "Summer Days", 1936

Alexander Calder "Circus", 1926-31

Change is certainly a constant - sometimes it's for the better and sometimes not so much - but this re-invention of the Whitney Museum is a winner all around.

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