With America Is Hard to See, the exhibition inaugurating its luminous new Renzo Piano building, the Whitney has reclaimed its role among the city’s museums as the engine of the new.
Gleaming in the ghost-light of fluorescent tubes, the vitrine-encased vacuum cleaners that open the Whitney Museum’s Jeff Koons retrospective are nothing short of spectacular. The rest of the work, however, with few exceptions, reveals itself to be as thin, puerile and derivative as the artist’s harshest critics would expect.
“There is something nightmarish about Jeff Koons,” Peter Schjeldahl began in his 2008 review of the artist’s retrospective at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago for the New Yorker. This verdict had long arrived — it has always seemed that the critical wagons were circled on the subject of Koons.
Five American art museums and the Outdoor Advertising Association of America will mount a nationwide public art exhibition this summer. Art Everywhere will bring reproductions of some 50 artworks from the museums’ collections — chosen how else but through an online public vote — to billboards, subway platforms, train stations, and more.
Whitney Biennial curator Anthony Elms took on the nebulous meaning of “American art” most directly in his selections, but the results don’t really say a lot about what it means to be American — at least not in a way that makes it distinct from Canadian, Australian, Argentinean, or some other national identity forged in the modern era by immigration, capitalism, environmental devastation, and a displacement of indigenous cultures.
What is most important to us — as writers, thinkers, makers, and believers in the arts? What happens when the world we live in no longer feels like the one we knew? In a culture of disappointment, what do we need to continue making work? To continue believing in the work that we make?
One of the reasons Hyde’s book is so loved, and why the Hopper exhibition is so relentlessly moving, is because they give cause for celebration; for honoring those protracted dialogues with our inner muses, when they are both abundant, generous and nourishing, and when they are truculent, belligerent, and downright cruel.
PARIS — “What should a museum look like, a museum in Manhattan?” architect Marcel Breuer asked in explaining his design for the Whitney Museum of American Art. “Surely it should work, it should fulfill its requirements, but what is its relationship to the New York landscape? What does it express, what is its architectural message?” An exhibition in Paris looks at the career of the architect as the Whitney prepares to move on from the building he designed.
Sharon Hayes can be a difficult artist to like. Her work often centers around “speech acts,” which the wall text in her current exhibition at the Whitney defines as “when speech functions not only as communication but as action.” Just beyond that text is an example: a barren area containing only a black platform of steps, a poster and a speaker that blares out one of Hayes’s speeches. In other words, there’s not always much to look at.
Talk about art going big: the New York Times reported last night that the Whitney will mount an enormous Jeff Koons retrospective as its last hurrah in the Breuer building, before moving downtown in 2015. Probably out of necessity as much as for flair, the exhibition will take over the entire museum except for the fifth-floor permanent galleries — the first time the Whitney has given over that much space to one artist.
Get out the syringe, it’s time for your shot of art for the week. We promise it won’t be painful. This week the medicine comes in the form of museum exhibitions both big and small, including Sherrie Levine’s retrospective at the Whitney, the much anticipated opening of the Met’s Islamic wing, and round-up of seminal art from the 1980s in Hudson Valley that’s worth the trip to upstate New York. We’re also prescribing two events that mix visual art and music, a combo that is sure to cure any illness.