Jasper Johns, "Three Flags" (1958) (all photos by the author unless noted otherwise)

Jasper Johns, “Three Flags” (1958) (all photos by the author for Hyperallergic unless noted otherwise)

The inaugural exhibition at the new Whitney Museum of American Art, which opens to the public today, is predicated on the elusiveness of a cohesive and stable national identity in the United States. The enormous show is titled America Is Hard to See after the 1951 Robert Frost poem of the same name — whose original title was “And All We Call America” — in which he ruminates on the expeditions of Christopher Columbus:

America is hard to see.
Less partial witnesses than he
In book on book have testified
They could not see it from outside —
Or inside either for that matter.

But, with more than 600 works by over 400 artists, it’s actually shockingly easy to spot America in America Is Hard to See. There are works featuring US flags, US presidents (including Richard Nixon, Ronald Regan, and Barack Obama), a US vice-president (Dick Cheney), US soldiers, and the US Capitol building. There are works that have “America” in their titles, and even one that just consists of the word “America” in neon letters. So don’t believe what Frost and the Whitney curators tell you — here’s proof that America isn’t hard to see at all.

Florine Stettheimer, “New York/Liberty” (1918)

Tom Wesselmann, “Still Life Number 36” (1964)

Wayne Gonzales, “So Long Suckers” (2008)

Elizabeth Peyton, “Barack and Michelle” (2008–13)

Donald Moffett, “He Kills Me” (1987)

Andy Warhol, “Vote McGovern” (1972) (photo by Jillian Steinhauer for Hyperallergic)

A cluster of works in the “Course of Empire” section of ‘America Is Hard to See,’ including Roger Shimomura, “American Guardian” (2007, top left), Richard Serra, “Abu Ghraib” (2004, top right), and Rirkrit Tiravanija, “White Columns 100” (2005, bottom right) (photo by Jillian Steinhauer for Hyperallergic) (click to enlarge)

Sue Coe, “Aids and the Federal Government” (1990) (photo by Jillian Steinhauer for Hyperallergic)

Felix Gonzalez-Torres, “Untitled (America)” (1994)

Glenn Ligon, “Rückenfigur” (2009)

America Is Hard to See continues at the Whitney Museum (99 Gansevoort Street, Meatpacking District, Manhattan) through September 27.

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Benjamin Sutton

Benjamin Sutton is an art critic, journalist, and curator who lives in Park Slope, Brooklyn. His articles on public art, artist documentaries, the tedium of art fairs, James Franco's obsession with Cindy...