Whitney Museum of American Art, New York City

The Whitney Museum of American Art

Walking to the Whitney Museum on a mild winter day is a treat. Eager to be out and about in Manhattan, we begin our trek from The Marcel at Gramercy Hotel on East 24th Street near Gramercy Park. Walking down 23rd we make our way to the High Line – a public park built on a historic freight rail line elevated above the streets on Manhattan’s West Side that will deliver us to the Whitney.

Approaching the High Line.
Approaching the High Line.
Walking on the High Line.
Walking on the High Line.

The High Line’s planting design is inspired by the self-seeded landscape that grew on the out-of-use elevated rail tracks during the 25 years after trains stopped running. Species of perennials, grasses, shrubs and trees were chosen for their hardiness, sustainability, and textural and color variation, with a focus on native species.

Italian architect and engineer, Renzo Piano, designed the new Whitney Museum. From a piece in the New Yorker I read:

  “He (Piano) expressed pride in the startling mismatch of the museum’s eastern and western fronts”. On the east, the building descends in tiers—“to bring down the scale,” he said—toward the historic low-rise buildings of the neighborhood. The side that faces the river is “more massive, more strong,” Piano said. A truncated-pyramid profile with jutting banks of large windows, it “talks to the rest of the world” from an attitude of confident majesty. Immodestly, but with proof in the product, the architect cited the elements that he had sought to incorporate in the design: “social life, urbanity, invention, construction, technology, poetry, light—an immense rich bouillabaisse.”

Whitney Museum
On the east side the Whitney descends in tiers.

Popular even during the week on a winter day, we wait in line outside for about 20 minutes to enter the Whitney. Observing the action in the Museum’s restaurant Untitled we decide to begin with an early lunch. Occupying a long, narrow space with glass walls on three sides, the restaurant, like the rest of the museum, was designed by Renzo Piano.

Untitled restaurant at the Whitney Museum.
Untitled restaurant at the Whitney Museum.

Untitled is a new restaurant from Chef Michael Anthony of Gramercy Tavern and its menu is inspired by the seasons and the creative environment of the museum. While waiting we look through his cookbook – V is for Vegetables – delicious doable recipes with short ingredient lists and color photos, designed for home cooks.

Sitting at the Untitled bar, lunch was delicious and social. Our waiter was knowledgeable and guided me through what turned out to be a fairly gluten-free menu, and highly recommended their acclaimed chocolate chip cookie (entirely gluten-free). Turns out the recipe was born when pastry chef Miro Uskokovic took it upon himself to create the ultimate chocolate chip cookie – one combining a soft, gooey interior with a toothsome, crunchy exterior. Playing with varieties and ratios of sugar and butter, he settled on a combination of brown and white sugar with clarified browned butter. Then, to see if the cookie could be made gluten-free on special request, he tested the cookie with Thomas Keller’s Cup4Cup gluten-free flour. The result? The staff actually preferred the GF version.

Food truck in front of Whitney
Business is slow for artful food truck in front of the Whitney.

The Whitney Museum of American Art was born out of sculptor Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney’s advocacy on behalf of living American artists. At the beginning of the twentieth century, artists with new ideas found it nearly impossible to exhibit or sell their work in the United States. Recognizing the obstacles these artists faced, Mrs. Whitney began purchasing and showing their work, thereby becoming the leading patron of American art from 1907 until her death in 1942. Today the Whitney’s collection includes over 21,000 works created by more than 3,000 artists in the United States during the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.

Blues, 1929, Archibald J. Motley Jr.
Blues, 1929, Archibald J. Motley Jr. (Courtesy of Nasher Museum of Art)

At the time of our visit a special exhibit –  Archibald Motley: Jazz Age Modernist – caught my attention and was the highlight of my visit. Archibald John Motley Jr. (1891–1981) was a bold and highly original modernist and one of the great visual chroniclers of twentieth-century African American life. As the Whitney exhibition notes of Motley’s artistic interest in these portraits: “On the one hand, he believed that seeing themselves in art would help African Americans feel pride in their own racial identities; on the other, he hoped that seeing beautiful contemporary black subjects would dispel stereotypes and undermine racism.”

View of the Hudson River from the Whitney .
View of the Hudson River from the Whitney .
View of the High Line from the Whitney.
View of the High Line and the neighborhood from the Whitney.

Savoring Motley’s paintings of jazz and blues, we end our day at Jazz Standard. Home to world-class jazz, warm Southern hospitality, and award-winning Southern cuisine and barbecue. Finding the setting intimate and comfortable we settle in to enjoy Children of the Light, two-thirds of the legendary Wayne Shorter Quartet. The music is clear and beautiful. Acoustic sound with some electric touches, simple but also majestic. Danilo Perez is the excellent pianist, John Patitucci is the great bass player and Brian Blade is called “one of the best drummers in this moment”. Amazing day… and only a 10 minute walk back to the Marcel at Gramercy Hotel!

Children of the Light at Jazz Standard
Drinks all around as we settle in for Children of the Light at Jazz Standard.

Art Exhibits 2012

Manet in Black, Fine Arts Museum

This print, Les Courses (‘The Races’), shows Manet’s drawing at its most vigorous. The viewpoint is dramatic. We find ourselves in the middle of the racetrack with the horses galloping straight towards us. The railing slopes away at an unnerving angle as the lower right-hand corner dissolves into furious scribbling.

“Manet in Black” is on exhibit at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston beginning in February 2012. Edouard Manet’s friend, the poet Charles Baudelaire, described black as the color of the nineteenth century. Manet was a master in the use of black, asserting his bold and subtle imprint on a range of subjects. This exhibition celebrates Manet’s brilliant achievements as a graphic artist. Known as the painter of modern life and the father of Impressionism, Manet was also an exceptionally gifted printmaker and draftsman, among the most daring and innovative of the nineteenth century.

Drawn primarily from the MFA’s collection and featuring a selection of some 50 prints and drawings by Manet and related artists—including Rembrandt and Degas—the exhibition spans a variety of subjects, techniques, and styles from throughout Manet’s career.

Bringing forth fresh perspectives on Manet’s art by established scholars, Therese Dolan’s new book – Perspectives on Manet – places this compelling and elusive artist’s painted oeuvre within a broader cultural context, and links his artistic preoccupations with literary and musical currents. Dolan’s collection investigates the range of Manet’s art in the context of his time and considers how his vision has shaped later interpretations. Specific essays explore the relationship between Manet and Whistler; Emile Zola’s attitude toward the artist; Manet’s engagement with moral and ethical questions in his paintings; and the heritage of Charles Baudelaire and Clement Greenberg in critical responses to Manet. Therese Dolan is Professor of Art History and Women’s Studies at Tyler School of Art, Temple University, USA.

Inspired by last years list of promising exhibits, here are some suggestions for 2012:

Support the arts! Visit a museum in your area or in a city you will visit this year… it is enriching, educational and inspiring. As Albert Einstein said, “Logic will get you from A to B.  Imagination will take you everywhere.”

New York City

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New York’s New Frozen Treats

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