From the Whitney Museum guide, “The Whitney Museum of American Art is the world’s leading museum of twentieth-century and contemporary art of the United States. Founded by sculptor and arts patron Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, the Museum opened its doors on West Eight Street in Greenwich Village in 1931. The Whitney later moved uptown and was, until recently, housed in a Marcel Breuer-designed building on Madison Avenue at 75th Street. Now, the Museum has returned downtown to a new building designed by Renzo Piano.
To inaugurate the new building, the Whitney has organized an exhibition drawn from its extensive holdings of American art, now numbering more than 22,000 works in all mediums created by some 3,000 artists. America Is Hard to See spans the entire building, occupying both interior and exterior spaces. The exhibition, which is organized into a series of twenty-three chapters titled after individual works, begins with an introduction to the Whitney’s early history in the gallery on the first floor before proceeding chronologically from the eight floor down to the seventh, sixth, and fifth floors, with additional works on the third floor.
Drawn entirely from the Whitney Museum of American Art’s collection, America Is Hard to See takes the inauguration of the Museum’s new building as an opportunity to reexamine the history of art in the United States from the beginning of the twentieth century to the present. Comprising more than six hundred works, the exhibition elaborates the themes, ideas, beliefs, and passions that have galvanized American artists in their struggle to work within and against established conventions, often directly engaging their political and social contexts. Numerous pieces that have rarely, if ever, been shown appear alongside beloved icons in a conscious effort to unsettle assumptions about the American art canon.
The title, America Is Hard to See, comes from a poem by Robert Frost and a political documentary by Emile de Antonio. Metaphorically, the title seeks to celebrate the ever-changing perspectives of artists and their capacity to develop visual forms that respond to the culture of the United States. It also underscores the difficulty of neatly defining the country’s ethos and inhabitants, a challenge that lies at the heart of the Museum’s commitment to and continually evolving understanding of American art” (Whitney Museum Guide, Spring 2015).
Kudos to Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, the great granddaughter of the shipping and railroad tycoon Cornelius Vanderbilt, for founding the Whitney Museum of American Art! The new building and the artwork featured is simply incredible, and I cannot wait to go back and spend more time there.