I was back in New York for a few days at the beginning of this month, and fortunately, my time in the city happened to coincide with the reopening of the Whitney Museum of American Art. I, somewhat ashamedly, had never been to the Whitney before, and made it a priority to withstand the long lines and ‘blistering heat’ to get inside.
Right off the bat: I cannot recommend this exhibition enough! The building is a masterpiece, and it’s opening is a true moment in New York history. Given such a momentous occasion, the curators at the Whitney could not have done a better job at offering an all-encompassing view into the progression of 21st century American art, or better yet, visual history.
Organized chronologically with different floors representing different intervals of time, the gallery spaces are then subdivided thematically, offering viewers an extremely concise and logical understanding of the contexts surrounding each work’s creation. Covering themes like turn of the century industrialization, civil rights, mid-century commercialization, the Vietnam war and the AIDS epidemic, the exhibition truly does become a historical experience, with the energy of being there for the opening weekend truly playing into that.
My only criticism would be a slight lack of thematic sophistication, but given the fact that such a large time period is being covered, and again, that this is a focus on history, it quickly becomes clear that this was not intended to be a highly sophisticated exhibition. While the pieces may sometimes read as selections from an Art History textbook, that ends up becoming the beauty of the experience, and for that, it’s extremely successful.
All photos by me.
Way back when I was in New York over the holidays, I shockingly managed to drag myself to midtown and take a trip to MoMA for the first time in almost a year. I’ve seen the permanent collection about a million times, so I expected it to be a semi-redundant venture, but the specialized exhibitions ended up being absolutely spectacular. I expected the Matisse Cutouts to leave me totally spellbound – they did – but the big shocker was definitely the Robert Gober exhibit in the bottom floor contemporary gallery.
From the ‘Mature Subject Matter’ sign outside the space doors to the virtually empty front room, I was immediately put on edge. The erie imagery and super redacted gallery space created such a surreal experience, not unlike a haunted house, albeit with more subtle, psychological scares.
Visually, my favourite spaces were easily the series of wallpapered rooms. Being surrounded by such symbolically heavy imagery created such a beautifully encompassing effect, transforming the room itself into the work of art, and the viewer into an involved subject.
Gober’s choice of including a small section of thematically similar works by different artists was one that I personally really enjoyed and respected, although it did seem slightly disjointed as I was experiencing it in person. The sudden shift from such strong and consistent imagery was slightly disconcerting, but in hindsight, the decision to elevate the act of curation to an art form in itself was one that I found very intriguing and in line with my own perspective of art.
Ultimately I found the solo exhibition to be a huge success, especially seeing as Gober’s art lends itself incredibly well to being shown in a continual context. Robert Gober has never been an artist I’ve lent towards for inspiration, primarily because his I feel his pieces fail to truly inspire understanding when shown alone. As an immersive experience, however, they create a moving and thought-provoking representation of humanity.
Images from MoMA.