Thanks to the good graces and special Founder Member status of LTP, I got to see the new downtown Whitney before its official opening! LTP and I cycled over from her Tribeca pad on Citibikes, and approached the museum from the Hudson River. The Renzo Piano building appears behemoth, rather industrial and functional, with its 5 “smokestack” exhaust funnels standing proudly, waiting to become iconic.
We both felt pretty marvellous, with a gorgeous New York day spread before us and plenty of time to wander the collection, taking in every vista indoors and out. A selfie felt perfectly warranted, as we made our first grand entrance:
The new Whitney references the layout of the uptown Breuer building in the way the elevators spill out on each floor to a landing where an introduction is made to the themes on that level. It is reassuringly logical, and one knows where she is at all times. The elevators themselves are Richard Artschwager environments. We rode up in a basket, and down under a table dressed with a table cloth.
These guys seemed happy to have new passengers in the elevator.
The selection made for the opening exhibition was exciting, and I love the way the canon is reshuffled. Cy Twombly was hung next to a painting from the same period by Alma Thomas, an African American artist from Georgia. There was a section devoted to art made during the outbreak of the AIDS epidemic, and it was incredibly moving to take account of the huge number of talented artists we lost in so few years. It was great fun lingering over the monitors where some legendary video works by feminist artists play in a continuous loop. Suzanne Lacy’s “Learn Where the Meat Comes From” (1976) was a hysterically funny and rather horrifying parody of a Julia Child demonstration of lamb preparation. Alexander Calder’s Circus, which used to greet the visitor to the Breuer building in the lobby, has a new home in a circular vitrine upstairs which is unfortunately a distraction, and makes the whimsical trapeze artists, lions and clowns look more like they are part of an installation than the subject of the playful work itself.
There are several terraces for outdoor sculpture, and the views from them are, of course spectacular. One terrace is populated with colourful Mary Heilman chairs for basking in the sun. Another has a nice selection of David Smith sculptures.
From every position in the building, I was looking at something beautiful, exciting or intriguing. If it wasn’t a vibrating Rothko or a reflectively polished John McCracken sculpture, it was the syncopated rooftops of downtown Manhattan, punctuated with water towers and chimney pots, or the glistening sparkle of the Hudson River. The Whitney Museum of American Art feels very at home in a spot where so much of the flavour and texture of New York City is in evidence.