A FIRST VISIT TO THE NEW WHITNEY: LIGHTNESS AND EXCESSFLYING HIGH: FORMLESSNESS FOLLOWS COMPLICATED FUNCTION IN AN AMBITIOUS ARCHITECTURAL DESIGN
Continuing a custom of Sunday morning museum visits when in New York, I walked for the first time from West Eleventh Street near Fifth Avenue to the "Meatpacking District" to visit the spacious new Whitney Museum. Is any "meatpacking" going on? This is a fashion district, busy with "Sartorialist" subjects during Fashion Week, tourist stragglers from the High Line at other times, and, more and more, full of big, expensive, rather generic new restaurants, always with tables outside. And it was a perfect day. PARTITIONS CREATE MANAGEABLE SPACE IN THE SHAPELESS VASTNESS THAT STRETCHES OFF SEEMINGLY TO INFINITY
The museum's galleries are often too large. It makes them seem shapeless and like the restaurants in the neighborhood, expensive and generic. There were examples of seemingly every important American (or naturalized American) artist from the Fifties on. And so what? All I remember is a praying mantis spotted on a sculptural stool (or something) on one of the museum's outside patios (not the top eigth floor, which I skipped, to focus on the art) -- a creature inspected gingerly by small children under parental supervision; and Jay De Feo's masterpice The Rose
(or The Whilte Rose
or The Death Rose
A couple of people can alter the scale of a monumental painting oddly in an overlarge space.
But the style of the museum exhibitions being to show one work by each artist, there are none of Jay's powerful drawings, or smaller, less monumental but more painterly and kinetic later paintings that would have shown the force of her images (and personality) better. EVEN MINIMALISM CAN BE MINIMALIZED BY ARCHITECTURAL AMBITION
It seems wrong for there to be be only one painting by an artist so briefly but blisteringly prolific as Jean Michel Basquiat, or by someone so important as Jasper Johns. In this new instructional display system, De Kooning's once shocking and revolutionary Woman
is just one more picture to note and pass on.
And due to the galleries' huge scale, it seemed the art works had to be epic. Nothing subtle or small. Except in a few specialized spaces. Notable was a smaller, square (and hence distinctively, memorably shaped) room dedicated to the Eighties and AIDS -- including small-scale photographs and a delicate etching and aquatint, "Black Flag," by Kiki Smith, which unlike the many big one-of-a-kind paintings invited, indeed required, careful appreciation at close range, and along with that, emotional involvement. (Off to one side was a dark room showing a 45-minute film version of Nan Goldin's Ballad of Sexual Dependency
, but that seems obvious, and not a good use of one's time: get the book).KIKI SMITH'S "BLACK FLAG"
Some will be turned off by the new Whitney; others will be dazzled by it. It soars; it has vast, airy views. It's full of light. It has a big, nice space around it. Though its galleries may be over-inflated and shapeless and their contents too much of a loud jumble, as a whole there is something swift and casual about it, a bit of Calvino's leggerezza
, a lightness. So there is hope. Anything can happen here. OUT INTO THE AIR ON MULTIPLE LEVELS
I look forward to the new use of the now nostalgic old Marcel Breuer Whitney building (on the once fashionable Upper East Side) by the Met for its modern art, which could be lovely -- if done right; or crappy, if not.
I talked to an African American woman operating one of the new Whitney's giant-sized elevators. (Supersize Me
was the new Whitney watchword. Will anything in the contemporary art world shrink like the middle class and its buying power?) I asked her if she liked working here and she annswered by saying, "There are always a lot of people, and a lot of people to talk to." She seemed high on it, and when alcohol came up, said the museum was rented out when free; and for one party night there was a bar set up right in her elevator -- and "The people never got off; they just rode up and down.".....
Guards come in a variety of ages and colors......
Devices as usual now war with art. Couples hover "alone together."