Lame Adventure 416: “What are we here for?”

On a recent pay-what-you-want Friday evening at the Whitney Museum of American Art, Milton and I were among the first of the small spenders. We each paid five dollars, significantly less than the usual $20 admission fee.

Prized $5 ducts.

Prized $5 ducats.

Milton: What are we here for?

Neither of us had ever visited the Whitney before. I reminded him that it was for the Biennial; an exhibition the Whitney holds every other year showcasing contemporary art produced by lesser known as well as up and coming artists.

This year’s Biennial is the last at the Whitney’s current Madison Avenue at 75th Street location, an iconic building designed by Marcel Breuer.

The Whitney's facade resembling upside down steps.

The Whitney’s facade resembling upside down steps.

Next year, the Whitney will relocate to a much larger space designed by Renzo Piano in the very trendy Meatpacking district in lower Manhattan. After the Whitney moves, the Metropolitan Museum of Art will have exhibits and educational programming in that space. It is comforting to know that one building remains on Manhattan Island that has yet to go luxury co-op.

Three of the Whitney’s five floors are devoted to the Biennial that is on display through May 25th. But the top two floors feature an exhibition called “American Legends: From Calder to O’Keeffe” that runs through October 19th. Possibly due to the proliferation of smart phones attached to every 21st century museumgoer’s mitt, attendees were allowed to snap shots with abandon.

The first paintings we saw when we exited the fifth floor elevator were works by Jasper Johns.

Do I have triple vision?

Jasper Johns. Three Flags. 1958.

We saw exquisite paintings by Edward Hopper.

Edward Hopper. Early Sunday Morning. 1930.

Edward Hopper. Early Sunday Morning. 1930.

When we entered a gallery with flower abstracts, I declared:

Me: This has to be Georgia O’Keeffe, it’s so vaginal!

Georgia O'Keeffe. Music, Pink and Blue No. 2. 1918. (Sure looks like something else to me.)

Georgia O’Keeffe. Music, Pink and Blue No. 2. 1918.

The symbolism in a Jacob Lawrence painting from 1946 called War Series: The Letter made me reflect on how I feel about labeling tile at The Grind.

Jacob Lwrence. War Series: The Letter. 1946. (Or the agony of tile labeling.)

Jacob Lawrence. War Series: The Letter. 1946.

Milton was particularly unimpressed with the paintings by Burgoyne Diller.

Burgoyne Diller. Untitled. 1962

Burgoyne Diller. Untitled. 1962.

Milton: It blows my mind that something like this is considered significant. If your kid brought that home, you’d throw that shit away, or you’d find a way to hide it.

We entered a gallery where we were greeted with this painting by legendary pop artist Roy Lichtenstein.

Roy Lichtenstein. Bathroom. 1961.

Roy Lichtenstein. Bathroom. 1961.

Milton: I can’t look at this room. I hate this!

Roy Lichtenstein. Still Life with Crystal Bowl. 1963.

Roy Lichtenstein. Still Life with Crystal Bowl. 1972.

Milton stormed into the next gallery where he was welcomed by this oil on linen portrait of poet, art curator and critic, John Perreault, painted by Alice Neel.

Alice Neel. John Perreault. 1972.

Alice Neel. John Perreault. 1972.

Me: At least you found something to look at.

Milton: Not that I enjoy it.

Milton has never been shy about how much he despises the paintings of Alexander Calder.

Calder. Contour Plowing. 1974.

Alexander Calder. Contour Plowing. 1974.

But he admitted that he liked this sculpture.

Calder. The Brass Family. 1929.

Calder. The Brass Family. 1929.

Milton: That’s fascinating. What’s it made of, wire hangers?

We moved onto checking out the Biennial. We first noticed that on every floor there was a speaker with plush toys emitting groaning noises.

Plush toys, scarves, stereo speakers and groaning.

Plush toys, scarves, stereo speakers and groaning.

This was from the 2013 collection of the artist, Charlemagne Palestine called:








Apparently, spelling has lost relevance.

When we entered the exhibit, these were amongst the first works we saw.

This is great art.

This is great art?

This is big red art.

This is big red art.

Marble sculptures n

Alma Allen marble sculptures on wood bases.

These sculptures of marble on wood are by Alma Allen, a self taught artist who works independently of any movement.

Milton: I don’t know what that shit is.

Philip Vanderhyden recreated People in Pain, a massive installation in crumpled vinyl backlit with now primarily forgotten movie titles from the 1980s. Gretchen Bender originally conceived it.

People in Pain.

People in Pain.

When we saw the title to the film, Ironweed, film expert Milton observed:

Milton: The only people in pain were the audience.

On the next floor, Milton seemed particularly fascinated with this wall of tee shirts.

Wall of tee shirts.

Wall of tee shirts on hangers.

Me: Do you like the tee shirts?

Milton: I hate them.

We encountered this cast salt wall hanging, Limbs of the Pacific, but I prefer Milton’s name for it:

Limbs of the Pacific.

Limbs of the Pacific.

Milton: Fuckin’ sandpaper!

Someone did a painting of the actor James Dean masturbating in a tree.


Rebel Without a Cause All Right.

Milton liked the concept but pronounced the painting:

Milton: Awful.

There was a series of paintings by Etel Adnan that were variations of this.

And we must work day jobs?

And we must work day jobs?

I stopped to look at this sculpture hanging on a wall, but I didn’t get its name, so I’ll improvise to the best of my ability.

Throw Something on the Wall and Call it Art.

Throw Crap on the Wall and Call it Art.

We saw these eight briefcases that musician, recording engineer and anti-war protester, Malachi Ritscher, used to store hundreds of concert recordings made on digital audiotape and cassette.

Eight brief cases, but feel free to count them.

Eight brief cases, but feel free to count them.

In 2006 Ritscher self-immolated himself near the Kennedy Expressway in Chicago to protest the Iraq war. I like to think that there are easier ways to be included in this exhibit.

We left the exhibit in silence until Milton spoke:

Milton: This breaks my spirit. Someone’s junk being honored!

But there was one bright spot: this fellow attendee’s tie.

Fellow attendee wearing floating tie.

Fellow attendee wearing floating tie.

61 responses to “Lame Adventure 416: “What are we here for?”

  1. Milton’s commentary should be offered as an audio tour while one visits the Biennial.


  2. The Perreault and Calder paintings are very similar.

    I have a drawer full of teeshirts like those.

    Nice floating tie. Was it windy?


  3. Well, at least you got to see some Hoppers. And absolutely – Milton is the best companion for viewing modern art exhibits ever!


  4. sometimes, painted peen isn’t a good thing. Just sayin’.


  5. I agree wholeheartedly with Milton’s assessment of the art. I feel badly saying that, because I think as an artist I should be more open minded. But I’m not. I do think you got your money’s worth!


  6. I think we are all fans of Milton here 🙂 … and of course, Hopper


  7. Sounds like Milton was channeling my mother


  8. I like some Lichtenstein and I really like Hopper and yeah, O’Keefe, I like some of that as well. Abstract art I like if done with purpose and if it actually looks like it took more than five minutes to do.

    I’ve been to the Whitney and seen some of the more questionable “art,” V. That James Dean one is something I’d rather not have seen–what, why?

    I’m entering my wall of jeans–do you think I could get representation?

    I think Milton should be an art critic.


    • You raise some of the same points as Milton, Brig: much of this art seemed to be produced by people without fine art training, so what we saw was a lot fine crap.

      That James Dean painting struck me as industrial sized Paint by Numbers porn rendered by a gay eighth grader. But that’s just me.

      There were rooms full of stuffed sculptures (and yes several more penis’s; enough already), so your wall of jeans could blend in well and possibly sell for a million dollars.


  9. I went to a modern art museum in Montreal last year and had a lot of the same thoughts as Milton did. One installation consisted of a pink string hung across the ceiling. That was it. Call me a simpleton, but I don’t get it.

    As an aside, if Milton ever needs a new day job, he should sign up to be one of the little commentators on Mystery Science Theater 3000.


  10. I like some, but not others, LA… and that’s as critical as I get! James Dean doesn’t look like James Dean to me, unless it’s a different James Dean and then it probably does… but then again, it probably does look like the first James Dean would look if I was to paint his portrait. Um, in a tree. I kind of like the Throw Crap on the Wall and Call it Art, swiftly moving on…


    • I went picture taking crazy, Tom, and I considered posting more, especially of art I liked … But, I didn’t. Milton and I were impressed with many of the works we saw in the American Legends exhibit, but after slogging through three floors of Biennial nonsense, it all looked like a blur of bull that some ivory tower academic pronounced important and we considered ridiculous.


  11. Cool exhibit, V. I’m curious to know how long you had to wait in line to get in. Good God, Milton is a hoot. Wish we had met him when we were there. Maybe next time.

    Glad you are feeling better, by the way!

    Hugs from Ecuador,


    • We met outside around 5:30. They let the cheapskates in at 6. The line was pretty long behind us, but it’s a big space. It wasn’t like when we go to MoMA on free Friday nights. The crowds there are epic, but very easy to maneuver at the Whitney. MoMA is our favorite. Milton is even a member now, so he can take me as a guest.

      I’m almost completely recovered from that beastly cold, but I am still coughing. That apparently has separation anxiety.

      Hugs back from the Apple,


  12. I think the floating tie was worth the admission. Great photo!

    And I’ll say it again: I love Milton.


    • I regret not asking the tie guy his name. I tried to find him on the web, but drew a blank. Apparently he makes those whimsical tie sculptures. I wish I could give him a full shout out. Eagle eye Milton saw him first. Yeah, Milton rocks!


  13. I love Milton, maybe because I agree with him. He should be a critic then we could avoid all the crap that passes for art. I know, art and beauty is in the eye of the beholder…really though, some things simply are not beautiful.

    Thanks for this, one more thing to check off my list if I get to New York soon (want to try so I can see Raisin in the Sun).


    • Val, if you visit to New York and you have the time, go to MoMA on a free Friday night (from 4 – 8 pm). MoMA is our go-to modern art museum. I saw Denzel Washington on stage once, in a revival of “Fences” a few years ago. His presence is magnetic. Milton is seeing this revival of “Raisin”, but I decided to pass when he purchased his ticket. The prices were just too high. That was before Diahann Carroll dropped out. It’s gotten rave reviews.


  14. The tie rocks. I love The Letter, too. But remind me never to die famous. Painting a picture of a star masturbating in a tree without their permission is impertinence beyond belief. Whatever happened to post-mortem privacy?


    • I found so much of the art on display in the Biennial adolescent cross-bred with porn, Kate. For example, there was a room with about a million warnings outside telling museumgoers that the content within was sexually graphic and violent. Milton and I entered in a nanosecond. The room was full of penises stuffed like throw pillows and there were brutalized female mannequins (the usual shenanigans vying hard to incite feminist rage and subsequently more attention: why it rated no mention in my post). It was all too boring to shock. Maybe James Dean’s heirs are quiet simply because they don’t want to draw attention to a painting that’s so sophomoric — and lousy.


  15. Priceless Miltonian quotes …. Maybe he could develop a “Worthless Art and Architecture Tour of NYC”


  16. At least Milton has an opinion to generate some conversation.


  17. I don’t think I would have thought to put together trendy and Meatpacking. Where exactly is the meatpacking district? I may have to check it out the next time I’m in town.

    I love Milton’s commentary. I think the Better Half would have felt the same. They should get together and do a tour. I would pay money to hear their thoughts on some of this “art”. Not sure about the James Dean in the tree. Might have been funnier in high school.


    • That would be on the west side of lower Manhattan near the High Line, a crowd pleaser that Milton and I have yet to visit. It opens in 2015. I don’t think much meat is packed there any more unless you’re a fashionably clad guy or girl under 35 out strutting your stuff and prepared to drop a wad at any of the many hip expensive restaurants and bars in the area. I take it that your Better Half is not very inhibited about sharing her opinion about art, either. That’s refreshing. She would blend in well with Milton the Brutally Blunt.


  18. Milton sounds like a hoot! I want to go to a museum with him sometime. What is this shit on the wall?! Ha ha. And the masturbating painting of James Dean, it’s too much! This is hilarious and I just feel like I took in an art exhibit. Thanks for sharing.


  19. I agree with Milton. There were a few nice pieces, but most of it was garbage. Those so called “artists” have to be laughing all the way to the bank. I think I’ll draw a stick-girl riding a pony and call it Lady Gadammit. Maybe I’ll get discovered.


    • It made me long for the floor that Milton calls “the joke floor” at MoMA. We felt hammered watching this. Milton swears that we will never do the Whitney again, but the new space does open in 2015 … I suspect we’ll be back.


  20. Amazing what passes for art these days. For the crap on the wall one, how about Dryer Lint as a title? That’s kind of what it looks like it is made of.

    Happy Easter!


  21. I’ve never seen a Hopper painting in real life, but always wanted to.

    I actually recognized the James Dean piece, though. It’s a grainy photo someone took that was supposed to be JD, but was never proven. Then again, who amongst us haven’t taken that same photograph? Am I right?


    • About being photographed jaybird naked in a tree while self-loving, what am I supposed to say to that? Okay … Milton has taken that picture of me and then handed over the camera and I took one of him. Hey, we’re common folk!

      The Hopper paintings in that exhibit were the first I had ever seen up close and personal.


  22. You know I enjoy art … I do. But I’m not sure what I would say walking into this exhibit. Although I think I’d enjoy it if Milton was my play-by-play commentator. His lines killed me …

    “It blows my mind that something like this is considered significant. If your kid brought that home, you’d throw that shit away, or you’d find a way to hide it.”

    Ha! That one was my favorite.


  23. Leave me in the room with the Hoppers … please! I hope you and Milton hit the nearest bar as soon as you left the Whitney. (BTW, his comments and your reporting of them? Now that’s art!!!)


    • You’ve been reading LA long enough, Patricia, to know that Milton and I practically ejected ourselves out of the Whitney into a nearby watering hole! The Hoppers were all well worth seeing. The Biennial art … not so much, but I’m glad we checked it out. Milton claims that we’ll never visit a Biennial again, but I can imagine us returning just for LA. We’re gluttons for punishment.


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