The High Line’s Whitney and its Physicality of Space

As I was leaving the Whitney on May 2 for the second time that day so that I could take a leisurely stroll down the High Line, I overheard a woman say, “Look at that line. Those people are dumb. They are going to wait in that line instead of waiting one more week for the lines to die down.” The lawyer in me wanted to politely respond, but I resisted because I was one of those people willing to wait in line (fortunately, I did not have to wait). I was able to make several reflections and observations that allowed me to see her thought process. I too have thought it dumb to wait in line for things for which I assigned no value. People wait in line for the things for which they are passionate. I understand now why people wait in line for the latest electronic gadget or for the latest sneaker to come out on the market. I have waited in line countless times for free tickets to plays and other forms of performing arts. Avid museum goers or artists are excited about the space and about the art. We like to be part of cutting edge movements and to see things that are aesthetically pleasing at their inception, not weeks later. Waiting another week deflates the excitement of seeing everything by hearing about it second-hand. It’s about experiencing something new as it’s happening. It’s about innovation.

E.E. Cummings Noise Number 13, 1925 Oil on canvas
E.E. Cummings
Noise Number 13, 1925
Oil on canvas

Today, at the Whitney my wait was short and it was tempered by having good conversation with the person (Joe) who was first in line. We talked about art for nearly one hour before we were let in for a community breakfast. He invited me in as his guest. As a result of arriving early, I had a personal tour guide for the entire exhibit, “America is Hard to see.” The title comes from a Robert Frost poem about the ideas which encompass America. Having been to some of the greatest museums in the world, the new Whitney is deliciously gorgeous. It’s not just about the art, but about the architecture and the use of the space to maximize the artwork’s design. The Whitney now stands alone. It is no longer clustered with the museums on the Museum Mile. It’s in a space unlike the other great NYC museums like the Metropolitan Museum, MOMA, and the Guggenheim. The cafe, the restaurant, the terraces, the views, all add dimension and depth that the other great museums in NYC lack. It’s the location strategically placed between the High Line and the Hudson River that puts this museum on par if not superior in location to the others. The architects, the executive officer, and the curators must be immensely proud of their accomplishments.

Reno Piano, an Italian architect, is the chief architect for the Whitney. He is known for his great museum designs. The design makes people smile as they view the art. The floor with rustic looking floor boards also adds beauty to the design as well as to the bright white walls. The use of the space allows the visitors to not just enjoy the art, but to also enjoy the beauty of the Hudson River and to enjoy the beauty of parts of New York City from above. Couch’s are strategically placed so that one can appreciate both the art of the American artists, the architecture of the museum, and the view of the City.  Near the couches, art work is either suspended or hung behind the couch. One piece of art, Negro Sunshine, is suspended from the ceiling as one gazes out the large windows. Outside at the back of the museum, there are abstract sculptures and table service for the top floor cafe. The museum guests can walk from one floor to the next via outdoor staircases or via the indoor stairs. This further enables the museum guests to fully appreciate the museum’s design.

Patrick Henry Bruce (1881-1936), Painting, c. 1921-22. Oil on canvas, 35 × 45 3/4 in. (88.9 × 116.2 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; gift of an anonymous donor 54.20
Patrick Henry Bruce (1881-1936), Painting, c. 1921-22. Oil on canvas, 35 × 45 3/4 in. (88.9 × 116.2 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; gift of an anonymous donor 54.20

The inaugural exhibit at the new Whitney showcases the Museum’s American collection. Despite its expansive collection, most of the collection features only a few works by a few hundred artists. The collection lacks depth from most of the artists. However, one is able to gain a glimpse of the work of many artists. As a result, he can get his appetite whet so that he can explore in-depth these artists at another venue. The exhibit features artists who are American born and those who immigrated to the United States. Some of the prominent work features work by Jackson Pollock, Jasper Johns, Jacob Lawrence, Thomas Hart Benton, Ruth Asawa, and Kara Walker. As one views the exhibit, he should pause and reflect on the arts’ meaning. Many of us sometimes ask if a piece of art is truly art. We say, I could have painted that myself. I Am guilty of saying this myself without examining the thought behind the work. The honest truth is that we did not create the piece. Everybody is a critic. We all bring a sum of all of our experiences to every piece of art that we examine. We all see different ideas within one piece of work. That is what makes art unique. Art is subjective. Is it devalued because we think it’s junk? Who determines what is art? We should look at the history behind the art and look at the artist himself to gain a greater understanding of the artwork. I tried to insert some pictures of the terraces as well as pictures of other works so that one could gain a fuller sense of the beauty of the work and of the space, but I was not able to insert them into this post.

Richard Barthe African Dancer, 1933

Come to the Whitney Museum soon. It is unlikely to disappoint its visitors. Enjoy a leisurely lunch or an early dinner while taking in precious views of the city and of American art. Enjoy the High Line and see some of the best eye candy that NYC has to offer. This is likely to become my new haunt. Make it yours today.

Deirdre M. DeLoatch
Deirdre M. DeLoatch

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