I’m a little embarrassed to say that just last week I finally made my first visit to the new Whitney Museum of American Art. The Renzo Piano designed building opened May 1, 2015, replacing the former site for the Whitney on Madison Avenue and 75th Street. Why it took me so long to get there I don’t know, but from now on I’ll be a regular. The building, space, location and outside space make it a new kind of museum experience. It’s right at the base of the high line, not far from the art galleries in the west twenties and surrounded by a vibrant neighborhood of restaurants and shops, among industrial buildings and cobblestone streets giving it a unique New York feel.
With my partner in crime Eric, of Emperor’s Real Clothes, we first had to make a stop in the Samsung store to have our picture taken then projected on a ginormous screen. The digital photo is actually made up of millions of reduced photos from the same camera, sort of Chuck Close style. It’s worth the stop if you’re down there.
I’ve been told the best way to tackle the museum is to take the elevator to the eighth floor and work your way down. The first thing to catch our eye upon exiting the elevator was a very inviting café with ample seating outside and spectacular views. Coffee and scones (uncommonly good by the way) were just what we needed to fortify ourselves before taking in all the art. Wine is also available and light dishes. I can’t think of a more pleasant place to spend a sunny fall afternoon, though on this day it was cloudy and quite windy but nonetheless pleasant.
The first exhibit to take in was Carmen Herrera: Lines of Sight. The 101 year old Cuban-American painter worked in obscurity for years, only as of late getting the recognition and museum retrospective she deserves. It’s an extensive show with sculpture, painting and older works on burlap. Her show alone is worth the visit to the museum, there until January 2nd.
Working our way down, via the stairwell with a view, we took in the comprehensive Human Interest show. All the portraits in the show are from the Whitney collection. The first works you see upon entering the floor are two large canvases of photorealism paintings, one of a man standing next to a race horse with jockey and the other of a mid century family posed in front of a station wagon. Both catch your attention right away. The portraits include many mediums, from classical drawings, photography, paintings, sculpture and video. There are iconic portraits from Warhol, Avedon, Mapplethorpe and Gorky just to name a few. The emphasis is really on the human-interest aspect of portraiture and the human condition from the trite to the dark side and everything in between.
What makes the new Whitney so interesting is its relationship to the surrounding area and the way the light and views inform the space inside. Almost every floor has outside space sometimes with art like the kind of creepy Snow White sculpture with a haughty Snow White rising from the ashes of what looks like a destroyed childhood. Dominating the space in front of the floor to ceiling windows on another level is a larger than life sculpture of the artist Julian Schnabel sans head. On closer inspection you see it’s a giant candle with several flames burning at the top. The flames are lit each morning the museum is open and extinguished at closing and will continue until it has completely burned down.
To top off our trip as we continued down was a fantastic wall of works by Ellsworth Kelly. All in all it’s a great way to spend an afternoon, and no better time to enjoy the surrounding neighborhood than right now. To help plan your visit go to their website here.