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The New Whitney Museum of American Art

The Whitney Museum of American Art. Courtesy of the Whitney.
The Whitney Museum of American Art. Courtesy of the Whitney.

By Bobbie Leigh

The Whitney Museum of American Art opens May 1 with a flourish of buzzy celebrity gatherings, a block party and free admission May 2. The inaugural exhibition, “America is Hard to See,” is huge, some 600 works by 400 artists tracing the history of American art from 1900 to today. It is a great show, in fact a dazzling one, but it is almost impossible to enjoy the art, the views, and the spectacular galleries in one visit.

So here’s a suggested mini-guide for your first visit.

*Elevators: Nothing pedestrian here. Instead, four distinctive ones with artwork by painter and sculpture Richard Artschwager.

* Three Outdoor Terraces: Eastern views of the Manhattan skyline. The fifth floor has a large outdoor gallery with May Heilmann’s installation of shocking pink, yellow, and lime green chairs— and yes, this is an installation that welcomes you to sit down.

 

 

*Start at Floor Eight:1920-1940, and work your way down. Familiar works include those by George Bellows, Grant Wood, and Georgia O’Keefe. Food: the eighth-floor café, has soup, salads, toasts, and dessert. You can eat at tables and handsome Harry Bertoia chairs with gray leather cushions or you can opt for an adjoining terrace with striking views of both the Hudson River and the city skyline

Floor Seven:1925-1960: Alexander Calder’s “Circus” has its own glass dome and has never looked more at home. The galleries have an intimate quality in spite of their scale. The pale pine floors recycled from old factories throughout the museum are the perfect complement to the white, gray, and sea-blue walls. A first for some people in this section will be Joseph Cornell’s “Rose Castle.” A highlight is the iconic Ben Shahn “The Passion of Sacco and Vanzetti,” one of the best known examples of American social realism.

To avoid a case of “museum feet,” at this point, it’s not a bad idea to exit the museum, take a walk along the adjacent High Line and return at another time or later in the day.

Sixth Floor: 1950-1975: One of the great works among many is Tom Wesselman’s “Still Life Number 36.”

Fifth Floor: 1965-Present: Jonathan Borofsky’s painting “Running People” is on a West wall facing the Hudson River. Against the wall are three gray leather couches facing the floor-to-ceiling windows. This is a good place to enjoy the river view and check your emails as wi-fi is free. Jean-Michel Basquiat’s “ Hollywood Africans,” and Eva Hesse’s “No Title” are in this section as well as works by Matthew Barney, Sue Williams, and Lorna Simpson among others and an installation, “Untitled,” by David Hammon.

Floor Three features the multi-use, 170-seat theater, a center for works on paper, and various workshops and study centers. The ground floor features “Untitled,” the Danny Meyer bright and airy restaurant with a huge open kitchen. It’s open for lunch and dinner and an adventurous wine list seems to be in the works: www.untitledatthewhitney.com.

At the ground-floor gift shop, the staff wear vivid orange and green t-shirts with a message: “We’re here to help.” Alas, the shirts are not for sale. At the press opening, when asked what she thought of the museum, an elevator operator said that each time she came to work, she saw something new. Most likely, you will be of the same opinion.

“America is Hard to See” is on view through September 27. 2015; General admission is $22. Visitors should consider buying advance tickets online at Whitney.org. Closed Tuesday.

 

 

Bobbie Leigh has written for many national publications including The Wall Street Journal, Travel & Leisure, and Departures. Currently she is a New York correspondent for Art & Antiques.
Bobbie Leigh has written for many national publications including The Wall Street Journal, Travel & Leisure, and Departures. Currently she is a New York correspondent for Art & Antiques.
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