The Whitney Museum, in one form or another, has occupied spaces all over Manhattan for more than 100 years. Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, an established sculptor and art collector, opened the Whitney Studio in Greenwich Village in 1914. With the help of her assistant, Juliana Force, Whitney collected close to 500 works that she offered to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1929. The offer was declined. Undeterred, Whitney started her own museum exclusively for American Art. In 1931 she bought row houses next to her Studio Club and converted that into a living space and museum. Fast forward to 1954 when the museum moved to a new space on 54th Street behind the Museum of Modern Art. In 1966 the Whitney relocated uptown to the southeast corner of 75th Street and Madison Ave., a modern space designed by Marcel Breuer and Hamilton P. Smith. That spaced closed in the fall of last year in preparation for the upgrade to 99 Gansevoort Street between 12th and 13th Streets. For more on the history of the Whitney and to see a sultry portrait of Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney lounging on a divan, check out the first floor gallery at the museum.
The new Whitney, which opened May 1 in the Meatpacking District just north of the West Village, has twice as much exhibit space compared to the old museum and is in stark contrast to the old space’s monolithic inverted pyramid, which is being leased to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Once you arrive, you’ll see that light and space are in ample amounts. Exhibit spaces have ceiling-high windows and gray pine floors. Visitors can take a break by stepping out onto outdoor galleries on the 5th, 6th, and 7th floors for fantastic views of the Hudson, the High Line and Empire State Building.
A panorama of American Art
The centerpiece of the new Whitney’s Spring 2015 season is the “America is Hard to See” exhibit on display through September 27, 2015. Some of the material presented may be inappropriate for kids under 13. A panorama of the themes and passions that inspired American Art since the beginning of the 20th century, “America is Hard to See” is comprised of more than six hundred works—sculpture, photographs, paintings, and prints—organized chronologically on floors 1, 3, and 5-8. You can find the earliest works on the 8th floor. Time marches on as you descend. Using the stairs can help you avoid the crowded elevators and rewards you with a nice view of Hudson. Nevertheless the elevators are works of art themselves, featuring six themes from the imagination of Richard Artschwager—door, window, table, basket, mirror and rug. The elevators are parked on the first floor and visible from the street, after the museum closes.
The exhibit is divided into 23 thematic chapters addressing such topics as industry and mechanization; the prairie; American surrealism; entertainment; social change; abstract expressionism; the AIDS epidemic; art by women, ethnic minorities, gays and lesbians; and the transition between digital and analog technologies.
Some of the exhibit’s political/social change works, such as the anti-lynching photos and prints (for example, Harry Sternberg, Southern Holiday), an abstract painting of an American soldier raping a Vietnamese girl (Peter Saul, Saigon), a protest against poor conditions for migrant workers (Milton Glaser, Don’t Eat the Grapes) and photos of AIDS patients (for example, David Armstrong, French Chris, Rue Andre Antoine), pack a punch. Softer social commentary can be seen in Andy Warhol’s Before and After and Robert Bechtle’s ’61 Pontiac.
Refuel with a light meal at the Studio Café on the 8th floor, where we enjoyed enjoyed three tasty dishes (all $12 dollars)—an arugula, roasted asparagus and wildflower honey salad and two “toasts” open-faced sandwiches, one duck meatloaf, ricotta and kale and the other arctic char, fingerling potatoes, capers, fennel and crème fraiche. Foodies jonesing for fine dining can go to the ground floor and visit Untitled, run by Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group. Executive chef Michael Anthony oversees the menus at Untitled and the Studio Café.
Before or after your visit, don’t miss a stroll on the High Line.
Note: The first weekend of every month (which happens to be this weekend!) Bank of America cardholder get one free adult admission at many museums, including the Whitney).
General admission tickets for adults $22; students and seniors $18; admission for kids under 18 is free. Avoid lines, by purchasing online until midnight the night before your visit. There’s no extra fee for purchasing the tickets online. You may arrive up to 30 minutes after the time you select, and stay as long as you like. Hours here.