The new Whitney Museum of American Art arrives at the shore of the Hudson River looking forward


New Whitney Museum of American Art

Abstract -Minimalist sculptures instaled on the roof of the Whitney Museum of American Art


With the May 1st opening of their new ‘home’ the Whitney Museum of American Art looks to the future while symbolically returning to their roots. The new building on Gansevoort Street in New York City’s trendy Meatpacking District is only blocks from the museum’s original location on 8th street in the Greenwich Village. Returning downtown from the city’s Upper East Side, where the museum has occupied an Aztec-like modern building since 1966, has also allowed for a sizeable expansion. The new building being almost twice the size will allow the Whitney to return in a way to how it initially functioned when established by Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney in a townhouse in 1914 as a space for artists to simultaneously create and exhibit artwork.

In this way the museum’s director Adam Weinberg said he hoped for the new building to act as a “laboratory” for artists in which they can envision and produce new works. Architect Renzo Piano echoed this sentiment in his multi functional contemporary design. Piano’s design appears laboratory-like as well with its glass and steel structure. Aesthetically the building marks the institution entrance into a new Post-Modern era.

Not to deny their roots the exhibition America is Hard to See inaugurates the new building with an in-depth examination of the Whitney’s collection. The exhibition looks at important concepts and themes in American art from the last 115 years. Broken up into twenty-three micro exhibits or “chapters” the exhibition identifies and shows tropes from abstraction to video art.

Beginning with a section of Cubist abstractions the museum locates itself and the art historically and geographically with a quote from the French avant-garde artist Francis Picabia on New York:

“You of New York should be quick to understand me and my fellow painters. Your New York is the cubist, the futurist city. It expresses its architecture, its life, its spirit, the modern thought.”

Picabia’s statement can be allied to the new building with its hyper modern, cubist-like geometrical structure.

The exhibition moves forward not necessarily chronologically but by connecting said tropes in an immersive, leading manner. This almost narrative-like exhibition plan can be seen as one that moves from the beginning cubist abstraction into a gallery surveying sensitive, almost impressionist abstract works by the artists like Georgia O’Keeffe.


Georgia O'Keeffe, New Whitney Museum of American Art

Georgia O’Keeffe
Music, Pink and Blue No. 2, 1918
Oil on canvas


Onward as one arrives by elevator to the 5th floor you are greeted by the particularly interesting instillation of Barbara Kruger’s untitled 1987 piece over Donald Moffett’s He Kills Me, also from 1987. This graphic, stimulating entrance was apart of the curatorial gesture to that as assistant curator Catherine Taft said was meant to “make the art pop” at the beginning of each ‘chapter’.

Moffett’s wall paper piece pictures swirls of black and orange with grainy images of former U.S president Ronald framed by the text “He Kills Me.” The piece is something like psychedelic while being a political activist gesture produced during the HIV / AIDS crisis when the republican president had decided not to acknowledge or try to treat the epidemic. In as much “He Kills Me” places blame on the government’s ignorant and inhuman neglect.  Likewise, Kruger’s piece comes from an arguably feminist point of view while incorporating the artist’s signature use of text. This piece pictures two girls, one looking the over the others shoulder as she makes a fist, with a red stripe framing the text “We Don’t Need Another Hero.”


Barbara Kruger, New Whitney Museum of American Art

Barbara Kruger
Untitled (We Don’t Need Another Hero)
Donald Moffett He Kills Me Both ,1987


By bringing these pieces together the curators created a kind of artwork of their own that encapsulates the themes of politics, identity and that body that pervades the art featured in the “Learn Where the Meat Comes From” section of the exhibit.  This ‘chapter’ also includes the work of early and transgressive video works by artists like Vito Acconci and the subversive film based photographs of Cindy Sherman.


Cindy Sherman, New Whitney Museum of American Art

Cindy Sherman, ‘Untitled Film Still #45,’ 1979


America is Hard to See acts like a catalyst for the Whitney’s renaissance. The exhibition like the new building serves to revive the museum’s history and collection from a timely point of view. Sharing their rebirth with the city on the evening of May 1st the iconic Empire State building will be illuminated with special lighting inspired by the museum’s collection. This grand light show celebrates the museum’s opening in a way that reflects its new forward thinking mode of operation.

America is Hard to See is on view at the new Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, May 1 – September 25, 2015.

All photos courtesy Whitney Museum of American Art.


America is Hard to See, New Whitney Museum of American Art

Instillation view of America is Hard to See at the Whitney Museum of American Art

Discussion Un commento

  1. April 30, 2015 at 4:52 pm

    Great article. Leaves me wanting to enjoy the exhibition and the narrative created by the art itself. The Whitney’s collection is profound and I’m left excited to see it in the new space and in context.

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by Robin Newman
in Focus on the American East

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