The NEW! Whitney Museum of American Art

Finally made it over to the new Whitney Museum of American Art towering over the end of high line in the meat packing district of New York City. The silhouette of the new building references the old one but it now has an airiness and brightness that is a definite improvement from the near windowless concrete behemoth rising from the Upper Eastside of Manhattan that used to be home to this beautiful collection of art. The current exhibit, America is Hard to See, truly feels like an emergence from the shadows as it follows the rise of modern American Art and the movements that followed, through landscapes & prairies, through industrialization & settling into a groove of all sorts of abstraction & ideas. The exhibit is overwhelmingly comprehensive moving from 8th floor down and featuring galleries of shared schools of style and inspiration- I definitely didn't see it all in the hours I spent there! But what I did see made me walk away with complete excitement for the future of American art and a much, much better attitude towards its current state.

After butting up against the art world for a few years while working in a studio I was often annoyed by the lengthy explanations galleries offer to contextualize or explain the work on view: the work should speak for itself. But, through scope alone, this exhibit really laid bare this act of explanation in contemporary conceptual art: It is moving away from commodity, it is creating the need for interaction, it is provoking thought.

In this show one sees the ballooning of images from Nam June Paik to Jeff Koons, to Donald Judd  to Richard Serra the physicality of the work becomes substantial, heavy, moving off the page & canvas and eventually into another realm entirely. The shapes and images they are producing are impeding, present, they overtake the space. As the art world continues to assert itself as a commodity, the birth of graffiti, conceptual art, video and performance, were the perfect post-Warhol response to diffuse the increase in capitalistic tendencies. These works move away from the solid form to provoke a cultural dialogue.

The meaning of a piece of conceptual art might be tacit at first glance but the act of communicating this intended meaning - or even another, interpreted meaning- through written or spoken words brings the work to life. This fact makes conceptual art an expression of its audience more than that of the artist or work itself. Even though this genre of art is often categorized as "art about art" as it relates to issues of commodity and form, those audiences unaware of the art world conversations end up reflecting their own views onto the work. The worked is defined by the audience, a true mirror of the society the work was created in, a perfect predecessor to the amount of selfie sticks I witnessed blocking the art at the Whitney...

As a whole the exhibit left me wondering what will come next? Now that the mirror phase of conceptual art and art addressing the narcissistic, false individuality of the millennials are past us what will be the next shape American Art takes on? Personally I think it is going to go back to the top floor of this exhibit, an overall move to realism in order to physically ground events that seem to dissolve into quickly forgotten hashtags, a solid way to romanticize the decaying natural world. Art will always be a reflection of the time in which it was made and the people living in it. Art also tends to prod at the status quo and help push out antiquated ideas...young artists, please act fast! This election is terrifying! (Images top to bottom: Stuart Davis, Edward Hopper, Ed Ruscha, Keith Sonnier, Ryan Trecartin)



Donna K. lives in the Midwest and on the internet. Mostly she writes about her interest in the offline world.