It would be silly to claim that these are anything but fraught times. So much so that at this point nihilism has begun to seem like the easy part. Mess ahead and worse to come. What has begun to strike me as harder and more complex is to take reality as it is and make something joyful and generous out of it. As I am not alone in observing, this is precisely what the new Whitney has done both in the physical fact of it's new building and in it's opening exhibition, 'America Is Hard To See'.
I spent the better part of two days there last week and I am still not done with all the new there is to see. This is not simply because there so much to see but also because every single aspect seems so worth seeing.
As is to be expected in a successful modern museum, art of every media and scale appears to advantage in large, well-lit and warmly subtle exhibition spaces. As odd as it may sound though it is not the success of the 'art spaces' that elevates the experience of the new Whitney but rather the inclusion of a variety of gracious and un-programmed spaces. Take, for example, the 8th floor's side hall with it's gorgeous, broad leather benches from which no art can be seen but rather magnificent views of the city skyline and the Hudson beyond. This is one of the areas that provides physical and psychic rest making the art both easier to see and easier to delight in.
And then there is the exhibition itself, which really seems nothing short of a visual summation of who we are as a nation. No punches are pulled as far as I could see. For example, there is a large wall of protest works on paper created by a variety of artists in the 1930's of graphic, soul scorching depictions of lynchings in the American South. Around the corner is Calder's 'Circus' with all its makeshift joy. Both types of work have the space and the context to preserve their dignity of purpose. Somehow embedded within this historical survey the power of the works are both amplified and integrated into the multi-dimensional experience of being an American. This is who we are but this is not all we are.
Lines are long and memberships start at $85. I suggest you consider joining. Not only will you be able to walk right in but you will be joining a great institution, one that has given us all a gift in this vision of what a museum can be and what we can be as a nation. High flown rhetoric? Maybe but if so the fault lies in the limit of my writing skills, I believe, not in the value of this new institution. It feels that joyful and that generous...and member or not, I hope you are able to get in a visit soon, ideally before 'America Is Hard To See' closes on September 27....