Towering over the green esplanade of the High Line, the new Whitney Museum of American Art is a spectacular success, inside and out. The inaugural show, America is Hard to See, closing this weekend, features 600 works on all eight floors of the new Renzo Piano-designed landmark. Finally, Gertrude’s collection has room to breathe.
The inaugural installation distributed the massive collection into smartly themed galleries, but moving up and down between the floors is an equal delight – picture windows and balconies offering views of spectacular sunsets over the Hudson and Empire State Building views from entirely new vantage points. Peeking through the doors into the kitchen on the 8th floor reveals some of the best views (think Standard Hotel) offered to any sous chef in the City.
Part of the fun is walking around on the balconies (on every floor) and experiencing the Whitney’s vertical outdoor sculpture park – Joel Shapiro’s playful bronze guy and David Smith’s towering Cubi totems, all against stunning City vistas. It’s Storm King for the urban soul.
Inside, it’s a walk through American art history with themes from the early 20th century (“Forms Abstracted”, “Music, Pink and Blue”, and “Machine Ornament”) with featuring the Whitney’s iconic works by Stella and Dove, O’Keefe and Macdonald-Wright, and Sheeler and Demuth. The clever mix of paintings and sculptures evoke times when American artists did their own takes on the modernist mix of African art and Cubism, colorful abstractions evoking symphonies for the eye, and the beauty of industrial techniques and landscapes in the heartland.
The curators even pay tribute to early American filmmaking with a continuing mix of reels by 20th century innovators capturing the bustle and abstraction of modern life.
Calder’s “Circus” gets an expansive showcase, surrounded by jazz age depictions of vaudeville, clubs, movie palaces, and downtown edge by Benton, Hopper, Marsh, Weegee, and Cadmus. Around every corner, a new dimension to the American Experience is revealed – social-justice prints of the 1930s, heartland life in the 1940s, wartime calls to action, abstraction and color-field revolutions, and Pop.
One of the most stunning triumphs is the large gallery dominated by Mr. Chamberlain’s white car-crush tower, Mr. di Suvero’s primal hankchampion sculpture, and Ms. Krasner’s voluptuous 1957 pink and green mural. The clever curators gave Ms. Krasner her place in the spotlight, surrounded by works by Newman, Rothko, Kline, and Mr. Pollack, who is — at least for the run of this show – relegated to a few vertical drip canvases on the faraway opposite wall.
On a lower floor, the curators have hauled out the massive de Feo piece, “The Rose”, and installed it next to works by other female innovators, Lee Bontecou and Louise Nevelson.
If you missed the initial installation, take a look at the Whitney’s website (which features selected works from each of the 23 themed sections), listen to the audio guide introduction, and enjoy views of our favorites on our Flickr page.
The Whitney welcomes late-night guests (until 10 p.m.) every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. Ride over to NYC’s newest subway station at 11th Avenue and 34th Street and walk down the High Line to the City’s latest hot spot in the Meatpacking District.