When art lovers visit New York for the first time, many of them go to the Metropolitan Museum, MoMA or the Guggenheim. Well I cannot blame them for doing that, these museums are a must see. But after you fought your way through these busy treasures, the Whitney Museum of American Art is the place to go.
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The Whitney, as people call the museum for short, reopened on May 1st of 2015 in the Meatpacking District after being located on the Upper East Side for 48 years. A good move because the number of visitors has doubled!
Even though the Metropolitan and the MoMA are still having records with over six million visitors for the Met and over three million for MoMA, the Whitney Museum has already doubled the number of visitors it normally gets in a year. An exact number is nowhere to be found, but when you imagine the museum got 340.000 visitors in 2014 the calculation is quickly made.
The new building is an eye catcher in the neighborhood, located at the beginning of the High Line, a linear urban park build on an old railroad that crosses through the West Village.
Inside the Whitney the art gallery spaces are huge. The space is open, the ceiling is high, there are no doors and on top of that when you look around you will almost always be confronted with a view of New York.
Jazz at the Whitney Museum
The museum has eight floors in which three are in use for viewing by the public, during my visit I started at the top and worked my way down. It probably takes you around two hours to visit the museum at a normal pace. On the eight floor there currently is an exhibition on works by Archibald Motley (1891-1981) called “Jazz Age Modernist.” Well, after reading further I would recommend you to start some typical Harlem Renaissance jazz music in the background to make it a little bit easier to imagine you are in present in one of his paintings. For example Chick Webbs “Stompin’ at the Savoy.”
The paintings show us the cultural flowering of African-American culture in the 1920s, with jazz music and gospel choirs in churches. I do not have to explain the difficulties these communities faced during these times, but Motley emphasizes happiness and joy in his painted scenes. Dancing figures, bright colors and the image of people clearly having fun is a sign of good times. When I walked along the paintings I wished I could dance and party with them!
A variety of American Art
I went one floor down, where the main collection of The Whitney is presented. The space is filled with works of George Bellows, Willem de Kooning, Edward Hopper, Lee Krasner and more. This variety of works is very interesting. Abstract Expressionism, American Realism and minimalistic sculpture are all represented on this floor. To contrast this for example to The Guggenheim where Alberto Burri has an installation right now. This installation is absolutely amazing, it shows abstract paintings in which different materials have been processed, but the pitfall of this exhibition is that after 10 works that all look quite similar your attention disappears. The first work of art should have just as much impact as the last, and this is something that works out very well at the Whitney.
Turn your head or..?
When you visit this floor I would recommend you to pay attention to Jackson Pollocks “Number 27” (1950) painting. When you look at the vertically hung painting and are touched by the splashes of color, the painting seems to come at you. Look again, because Pollocks signature is also vertical! The curators of the museum decided that the painting should be hung vertically instead of horizontally, which is interesting, but is it really what Pollock would have wanted?
“A Retrospective” by Frank Stella
Then finally the highlight of my visit, the exhibition of Frank Stella called “A Retrospective”. Frank Stella (1936) is one of America’s most important living artists, mainly known for his works in minimalism. Stella has a long history, imagine that his first works shown in the exhibition are from the 1950s and he is still working at the moment! He even worked on the exhibition together with the curators of the Whitney. The installation literally is immense. There are paintings, sculptures and drawings. Some of them make you wonder how the museum even got them up to the fifth floor…
Sculptures or paintings?
There are paintings with a lot of color and in contrast there are paintings in black and white. The combination of colorful paintings, large sculptures and black and white art works makes the exhibition very exiting and full of surprises. Interesting is the fact that Stella would not consider any of his sculptures a sculpture. He plays with the distinction between paintings and sculpture, because he paints on the sculptures. Does this make the work a painting or a sculpture? He also challenges paintings by using thick wooden pannels, are those then sculptures?
The Whitney Museum – conclusion
The variety in the museum, the great exhibitions, and the fact that it is not as busy (yet) as the Met and the MoMA make the Whitney the perfect place to go in New York! I hope I have enthused you to visit the Whitney Museum of American Art one day, it absolutely is worth a visit or maybe even two or three.
Visit the website at http://whitney.org/.
Dear Museologue readers, I am very happy to introduce myself as a guest editor covering art museums and events in New York City. My name is Lise Lotte and I am currently studying Art History in the Big Apple. I am extremely exited to show you all around, and present you the ins and outs of everything related to art in New York.