Winter At The Whitney: Two Excellent Reasons To Visit


Have I mentioned yet how much I love the new downtown Whitney Museum? Yes, it still qualifies as new in museum-years, having only opened last spring and, yes, if you've spent any time with me since then, and the subject of conversation has turned toward our great city's cultural institutions, I have certainly turned alarmingly excited about what a great job they did here. I could–and often do–go on and on, but the key victory for the architects and designers here is the museum's ability to absorb an enormous number of people without feeling crowded, always allowing letting the art itself to be the star. This is no small feat–have you been to MoMA in the past few years?–and the genius move I think was putting those tiered terraces with their lovely views out over the High Line, the Meatpacking District, and Lower Manhattan (and Jersey City across the harbor). Museum guests tend to travel between the exhibition floors via these interconnected outdoor spaces, pausing and resting their art-filled eyes with the city views. For one thing, it's a very pleasant place to be, the terraces. For another, it eases crowding in the galleries. Anyway, in addition to the stellar Frank Stella show going on there now, two other exhibitions (one of which ends on January 17) are well worth another Whitney trip.


Archibald Motley's Jazz Age Modernist (Now through January 17th)

I'm not sure I had ever even heard of Archibald Motley before wandering into the sixth floor galleries that hold this small but focused and affecting career retrospective.  Painting after painting, in the exhibition "Jazz Age Modernist" he compels you to stop and linger and look, whether it's a chaotic, near-caricature scene set in a jazz club or a simple portrait, the subject staring you right in the eyes. Everything'a terrific here, beginning with a self-portrait created at the peak of his professional renown in 1933 (Motley was a key figure during the early days of the Harlem Renaissance, in the 1920s) and ending with his final, and most politically charged, work, the brilliant "One Hundred Years" of 1972 that, among other things, depicts a lynching in the shadow of a Confederate flag. This is an eye-opening, thought-provoking body of work.



Collected by Thea Westreich Wagner and Ethan Wagner

The other large exhibition taking up residence on one of the Whitney's top floors is called "Collected by Thea Westreich Wagner and Ethan Wagner" and is, as you can imagine, selected works from one of the great private collections in the world. The Wagners are a husband-and-wife team that for decades showed remarkable prescience by purchasing pieces created by many of the most famous and beloved contemporary artists, always right before they started attracting astronomical prices and bidding wars. In addition to big names such as Richard Prince, Sherrie Levine, Jeff Koons, Diane Arbus, and Robert Grober, there are a number of recent works by what are possibly the next generation of art stars, like Liz Deshcenes, Laura Owens, and Sam Lewitt. Like everything I've seen at the new Whitney, the Wagner collection is well paced and both immediately and consistently engaging. Co-organized by Paris's Centre Pompidou (which will be the recipient of more than 400 of Wagner's collection), and with an undeniable sense of humor running through much of the work, it's a crowd-pleasing exhibition that also reveals a lot about the state of contemporary art.    


For More On The Whitney 

The Whitney is located at 99 Gansevoort Street, near the southern terminus of the High Line and overlooking 11th Avenue and Hudson River Park. The museum is open on Wednesday through Monday from 10:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., except on Fridays and Saturdays when it stays open late, until 10:00 p.m. Closed Tuesdays. Lots more information and advanced ticket sales (which saves you from waiting on line) can be found on the Whitney's website.

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