Yesterday friends and I visited The Whitney Museum of American Art at it’s new location in the Meatpacking District of Manhattan. Cool neighborhood. According to The Whitney’s website:
“The Whitney Museum of American Art was borne out of sculptor Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney’s advocacy on behalf of living American artists. At the beginning of the twentieth century, artists with new ideas found it nearly impossible to exhibit or sell their work in the United States. Recognizing the obstacles these artists faced, Mrs. Whitney began purchasing and showing their work, thereby becoming the leading patron of American art from 1907 until her death in 1942.”
Touring The Whitney was wonderful primarily because whatever adventure these friends and I embark on is fun but secondarily because the guide/docent we had was excellent. She (Paula) made me want to learn more about American art history. The way she explained various pieces was so informative but also insightful. She was obviously extremely well-informed but her passion for American art shone through. She made me think and wonder. The current exhibit is entitled “America Is Hard to See”.
“The title, America Is Hard to See, comes from a poem by Robert Frost and a political documentary by Emile de Antonio. Metaphorically, the title seeks to celebrate the ever-changing perspectives of artists and their capacity to develop visual forms that respond to the culture of the United States. It also underscores the difficulty of neatly defining the country’s ethos and inhabitants, a challenge that lies at the heart of the Museum’s commitment to and continually evolving understanding of American art.”
One of the most thought-provoking pieces for me was Fred Wilson’s Guarded View. It is four headless black mannequins dressed in museum guard uniforms. Paula’s comments about the piece truly made me think – the guards in museums are guarding the art on view but they themselves are on view. However, we don’t see them. She challenged us to look around the room. Even in NYC one of the most culturally diverse places in the world most of the visitors were white and the guards were black. I have been thinking about this piece in light of current events. I have pondering what was written about the piece. I was struck by the fact that Fred Wilson was born the same year I was.
I have a love/hate relationship with art and art museums in particular. Partly because I don’t always believe some of things we are “told” about the piece was why the artist did what they did. I mean maybe they just liked that color paint, or they didn’t have a smaller canvas or whatever. My “issues” with that stem from being a dancer and having people say “they got the piece”. Really?!? because sometimes that music was used because it was the right length and it inspired me and not for any other reason. All that to say I am sometimes leery of explanations of art but I have to say yesterday I gained a better understanding of American art, my curiosity was piqued, I experienced the connection between art and culture and isn’t that what a museum is supposed to do. Thank you Paula and The Whitney Museum.
To plan your visit go to http://whitney.org/