Getting There from Here
The Staten Island Ferry is a very pretty way to cross the Hudson River on the way to New York proper. You could take the subway, but why would you? The ferry is free, the view is lovely, and in the warm weather it’s nice to sit on the top deck and soak up the sun for 15-20 minutes on your way to the City.
Once you cross over, you can catch the Metro to all parts of the city right there at South Ferry and Whitehall. The tile mosaics are little peeks into the past when architecture had more of an artistic flare than it does today. I was reminded of Daniel Greene’s Subway Series.
The New Whitney Museum
Designed by architect Renzo Piano and situated between the High Line and the Hudson River, the Whitney’s new building vastly increases the Museum’s exhibition and programming space, providing the first comprehensive view of its unsurpassed collection of modern and contemporary American art.
Step Back from the Artwork, Please
Yesterday’s post was all about brushwork and my trying to get closer than two-feet away from the art on the walls at the MoMA. I wanted to be up-close and personal with the texture. Today was all about the large scale works at the new Whitney Museum of American Art, and stepping backward to take it all in.
American art went large on a grand scale after WWII. In the aftermath of the tragedy of war, many artists wondered how art could be meaningful? Artists in the United States were determined to make art that was unmistakably new. In in 1948 Barnett Newman wrote of himself and his peers: “We are freeing ourselves of the impediments of memory, association, nostalgia, legend, myth, or what have you, that have been the devices of Western European painting.” By abandoning European influence, American artists invented what was to become called Abstract Expressionism, the first American art movement to gain international acclaim. This art revealed an unprecedented sense of scale, tied not only to the size of the canvas but to the muscular strokes and broad fields of color that dominated it.
Taking it all In
Today I tried to appreciate the large scale work for what it was, big, bold, exciting, new, and about the process of painting itself. I was loving the giant brush strokes and huge canvases. I loved the work that had papers, fabric, and found objects glued into it. There was everything from taxidermy to metallic foil and dripped enamel paint.
Go big and outside the box, or go home.
The Museum was busy today, buzzing with a diversity of people from little old ladies, to young creative types, to families. I had at least two museum employees tell me that they appreciated my hair and my Purple Crush bottle cap earrings. In an art museum in NYC you can pretty much be guaranteed that anything goes as far as fashion. I love it.
The painting by Ben Shahn brought back memories from the depth of my mind… it took a few minutes but I remembered that it was actually recreated in a tile mural on the campus of Syracuse University, where I earned my BFA many years ago. The story goes that in 1920, working class Italian immigrants Nicola Saco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti — anarchists who vehemently opposed war and governmental imposition — were arrested for robbery and murder in Massachusetts that they denied committing. Convicted by a jury on the basis of circumstantial and conflicting evidences, Sacco and Vanzetti were sentenced to death, a verdict upheld by three specially appointed commissioners. The case, which spanned seven years, sparked international outrage, many believed that the men were victims of right-wing politics, anti-immigrant sentiment, and a compromised police investigation.
Ben Shahn took part in popular demonstrations in support of the prisoners during their trial and lengthy appeals process and later was inspired to create a series of works on the subject. Shahn portrays the key characters: Sacco and Vanzetti lying dead in their coffins: the unsympathetic commissions and Judge Webster Thayer, who presided over the trial, taking an oath in the courthouse.
How cool it was to learn more about Shahn’s work today, I can remember so clearly taking photos of the tile mural at SU in the late 80’s.
Being in the Moment
Artists often put us in the moment of the painting, as the viewer. Edward Hopper’s use of light and long morning shadows offer a very inviting empty street at the beginning of the day. I feel like I could just walk into the scene after a morning run… before anyone else has gotten up.
Bellows captures a dramatic moment in the September 14, 1923 prizefight between American heavyweight champion Jack Dempsey and his Argentine rival Luis Angel Firpo. I love the composition’s low vantage point which gives us the feeling of being down with the spectators.
I cry when I look at art that moves me emotionally. I was always afraid to admit this to people who didn’t “get it” but recently I’ve had lots of other artists weigh in and tell me they do too. So thank you for sharing, and for being honest and vulnerable. For me, a visit to a museum like the Whitney is an amazing experience on many levels. Sometimes it’s very hard to put into words what goes through my heart and my head. Being in the presence of such greatness, its an incredible, and at times overwhelming, feeling.
Art is for Everyone
What’s wonderful about easily accessible museums like the Whitney is that they really exemplify that art is for everyone. (The Whitney is in the Meat Packing District of NY and is easily accessible from the subway, it’s open until 10pm several nights a week. If the cost of admission is prohibitive, they offer a Free Friday Night program and school trips are always comped for educators.) There are so many different people who come to a museum in New York City that it encourages me and makes me happy. Some people hustle and bustle through so that they can “check it off their list” and others linger, talking, discussing, appreciating and taking it all in.
I ventured out to the Museum on my own today. I had a couple of texts from my art friends who said they wished they could be there with me. Truth is that it would be nice to have been able to share the experience with someone who “gets it” or who wants to figure out how to “get it.”
That’s what this blog is about, my way of sharing my experience with all who care to read.
Thank you for taking the time to visit the Whitney with me. It’s been an amazing day.
Up My Alley
I have to admit, when I started to see stuff being glued together and assembled, I started to get excited. Mark Bradford’s use of metal foil made me feel good about the work I have been doing with metal leaf lately. I really enjoyed that his foil was the negative restful space that every composition depends on.
Sam Middleton’s collaged newsprint and paper with watercolor and tempera was something that I wanted to look at up close and linger. I thought about how I could use this abstract collage technique as a sort of backdrop for a more realistic subject matter….
And then there was Wayne Thiebaud’s pies… oh how I love his depiction of desserts. I love them because they remind me of old hole-in-the wall diners, the kinds of places my father took me to as a kid growing up in New England. Dad knew where to find the very best diners and dives. He was an insurance broker who traveled to the homes of his clients, driving all over Western Mass, Vermont and New Hampshire. I’ve painted a few diner waitresses in my time… for me and for him.
Confessions of a Carboholic
When I made it to the Whitney’s cafe at the end of my visit, I thought about lunch, I pondered kale salad, I considered gespacho… but it was the caramel brownie and a cup of coffee that won in the end. Because, for as healthy as I am.. I am a carboholic when the curtains are drawn.
And nobody I knew was with me at the café counter.
Today’s visit made me feel all warm and fuzzy. I could think of nothing better to fill my belly with than something decadent and sweet.
for being a part of
My Art Journey,
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