Then we went to the New Whitney in the Meatpacking District of NYC. I seem to recall that there was some controversy over the new museum but I don’t recall. Whatever the controversy, it was amazing. I hadn’t been to the Whitney in many years. I don’t remember liking their collection much but that must have been before I began to appreciate contemporary art. I really liked the New Whitney. I loved the collection itself and enjoyed the building.
My absolutely favorite thing was seeing Calder’s circus. I learned he was a mechanical engineer earlier in his life. He constructed people and animals from the circus using his skills and basic materials like felt, springs, and wire. Some figures danced, others skipped jump rope. The museum displayed his circus under a giant glass dome. There were wire walkers, trapeze artists, clowns, circus tamers, strongmen, and even animal poop (peanuts). Nearby there was a film of him performing the circus. It was simply marvelous. This alone would have made the museum worthwhile but there were other treasures to behold!
They had one room of socially active art from the 1930s. It included an incredible photo of two young girls by Dorothea Lange and an amazing sequence of paintings by Lawrence Jacobs called the War Series. It shows the effects of war on soldiers during the war and afterwards. He really grasped the harsh realities for veterans and their families. The Museum had several powerful representations of the horrors of lynching. They also had a amazing photograph of a breadline with the advertisement in the background, “World’s Highest Standard of Living: There’s No Way like the American Way!” What a contrast.
I also really dug some of the newer pieces. One was a stacked wall of TVs that flickered with different images and colors by Nan June Paik titled “Pyramid 1982.” Visually stunning if not dizzying. There were some amazing giant cigarette butts laid around a gallery by Claes Oldenburg. He has a pile of them smashed out and then another single butt in a corner. Commentary on trash in the world. Rather neat.
There was another work that was a janitor’s cleaning cart with various body parts hidden on it by Josh Kline called “The Cost of Living.” It’s based on interviews by the artist with janitorial staff over a period of time about their work. I also got to geek out on some photographs by Ann Mendieta, a Cuban artist who died mysteriously. Her works are potent and visceral. She’s known for a performance where she smears blood on a wall with her hands. I really dig her work.
One piece was called “Invisible Man” by Fred Wilson. It is four headless black mannequins, each wearing a guard’s uniform from four museums in the city. Per the artist, he was interested in the tension between the art that is to be seen and the people who guard it who are not. It also makes reference to the racial composition of museums. I don’t think it was an accident that the guard for the room also stood in front of it.
The exterior itself was pretty neat. There was an external staircase that gave good views of the High Line, which starts right next door, and the rest of the city. You also have views of the river (including the Statue of Liberty that i apparently missed).
That’s all for now!