I grew up going to every major art museum in New York City. So when I walked into the new Whitney Museum of American Art last week, it felt like I was being reunited with childhood friends like Edward Hopper, Alexander Calder, and Georgia O’Keeffe. The building is an aesthetic wonder by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Renzo Piano whose main concern at a preview was thanking the team of people who made the project possible. Piano compares the lobby and building process of the new Whitney to a “piazza…a place and project where thousands of people come together.”
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The inaugural exhibition America Is Hard to See gathers pieces of American art from 1900 to today. With 600 works by some 400 artists, it is the most extensive display to date of the Museum’s collection. I couldn’t help but feel overwhelmed with excitement while wandering every floor. My experience through the lens of a viewer, it was like taking in every great piece that you affiliate with the Museum’s permanent collection then adding pieces from the best shows from the past few years, notably Glenn Ligon: AMERICA.
The elevators open on the 7th floor and you are swept into Calder’s whimsical world of the circus. All of those playful characters and their props will draw you in, but don’t forget the rest of the art on the floor – paintings by Jacob Lawrence are just around the corner.
Take a break at the 8th floor Studio Cafe and grab a cup of coffee then head outside for exquisite views of Manhattan. A personal favorite is Mary Heilmann’s site-specific project located on the fifth floor outdoor gallery. Mary Heilmann: Sunset welcomes you with two bright pink geometric forms on the Museum’s north facade, 40 chairs that are meant to be used by visitors, and a video the artist shot in the Meatpacking District in 1982.
At one point as I was standing outside on one of the many terraces, I noticed Lady Liberty in the distance. What better symbol to appear and remind us of the freedom of expression that we are afforded in our country? Alice Pratt Brown Director Adam D. Weinberg commented that, “The new Whitney is a manifestation of a long dream…a rough and refined building filled with possibility.”
One last reminder, don’t forget to look up on opening day. The Museum will partner with Empire State Realty Trust to create a one-night-only lightshow on May 1 beginning at 8pm. Join lighting designer Marc Brickman as he interprets pieces by Andy Warhol, Barbara Kruger, Peter Halley, among others.
Whitney Museum of American Art
99 Gansevoort Street, between Washington and West Streets
New York, NY 10014