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.
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.
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.
We saw exquisite paintings by Edward Hopper.
When we entered a gallery with flower abstracts, I declared:
Me: This has to be Georgia O’Keeffe, it’s so vaginal!
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.
Milton was particularly unimpressed with the paintings by Burgoyne Diller.
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.
Milton: I can’t look at this room. I hate this!
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.
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.
But he admitted that he liked this sculpture.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
Milton: Fuckin’ sandpaper!
Someone did a painting of the actor James Dean masturbating in a tree.
Milton liked the concept but pronounced the painting:
There was a series of paintings by Etel Adnan that were variations of this.
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.
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.
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.