I went to the new Whitney Museum on 6/1 - - they just moved out of the Upper East Side and opened their new museum space downtown a few weeks ago. My friends Karen and Liz went on Memorial Day weekend and raved about it. I decided that would be the perfect way to kick off my vacation week and bought a ticket for 10:30 AM on Monday 6/1. I made it there at around 10:25 and there were about 200 people waiting in line in the rain. I had the pleasure of walking past them and directly into the museum, since I'd already bought my ticket!
I thought I'd start at the top and work my way down. I took the stairs up to the fifth floor and thought I'd check out what's there before going up further. OK, I was a little winded from the five flights of stairs. They have art from the 70s through the 90s on that level, lots of great stuff. I walked past a side room and heard the Lotte Lenya recording of the first song in Weill and Brecht's *The Seven Deadly Sins*. If I were to make al list of recordings most likely to pull me into a dark room, that might make the top ten. The film being shown was *The Ballad of Sexual Dependency* by Nan Goldin. It's a series of photographs she took in New York City between 1979 and 1986, shown as a slide show with a soundtrack of mostly pop songs (Dionne Warwick, Dusty Springfield, The Velvet Underground, etc) with a few pieces of high art thrown in (Lenya singing Weill, Callas singing "Casta diva"). The photos were fascinating, and the way they worked with the music was extraordinary. She grouped the photos by theme - - female nudes, muscle men, women who had been beaten up, drug users, couples, etc. By the way, "The Ballad of Sexual Dependency" is a song from *The Threepenny Opera*, so clearly the artist knows her Kurt Weill.
I took the stairs up to the top floor, the 8th floor, and was amazed at the crowd up there. It was like Ellis Freakin' Island. I was immediately drawn to the Georgia O'Keefes. O'Keefe is a great artist and should be liberally represented at any museum that specializes in American art, but she needs room to breathe. You don't put seven or eight O'Keefes on the wall six inches apart with a Calder sculpture in the middle of the room and three Marsden Hartleys looking on from the other side of the room. Actually, leave out the Hartley - - I've never cared for him, to me it looks like high end gift wrap.
The 7th floor was so much more pleasant, the works had space to breathe. The highlight of the whole exhibition was Lee Krasner's *The Four Seasons*. Very large, mostly in green, pink, grey, and black. I didn't see four distinct seasons, but she must have had a reason for naming it that. I approached the explanatory card with a little trepidation because I was afraid they'd bring up her late husband (or is her ex-husband) Jackson Pollack. They did, but they had a good reason: this painting was her first major work after his death, and became a way of her proving to herself that she could still paint. And heck, I first heard of Krasner in the movie *Pollack* (played by Marcia Gay Harden in an Oscar-winning performance), so who am I to defend the honor of Lee Krasner.
The 6th floor: lots of other great stuff. I should say that the museum decided that the first show at their new space should be entirely things in their permanent collection, and it had a case of what I call Checklist Curating. Stella, Koons, Sherman, Warhol, Walker, Wyeth, Johns, Baldessari, Lichtenstein, Benton, de Kooning, Hopper, Pollack, and on and on and on. Like they're afraid the viewer will walk out saying, "Hey wait a second, I been gypped! I ain't seen no Rauschenberg!" After a while I found myself not so much looking at the art, instead looking at what they have.
I walked back to the subway and was stopped by three impossibly beautiful young foreign women. One of them said, "Excuse me, are you helping me?" She showed me a slip of paper with an address on it, somewhere on Bethune Street, not too far away. I pulled out my trusty Streetwise Manhattan map and she talked to her friends in what I think was Portuguese. I found Bethune on the map and started explaining how she should get there - - I guess I was talking too fast, because she interrupted me and said, "More less, please." I've decided this is the greatest painting title of the 21st century. "More Less, Please", acrylic on canvas. I just can't decide who should paint it.
I went to Arkansas from 6/3 to 6/6, visiting my Aunt Karen and Uncle Ken, their daughter Heidi, and her husband Bart. My mom made the trek from Wisconsin, and her little dog, too! It was a very special trip, had lots of fun and great food, and I finally got to see Crystal Bridges, the American art museum built in Bentonville with Wal Mart money. Richard and I were there in 2010 when it was being built, and it was such a treat to go back and see it in its final glorious state. Alice Walton has given such a great gift to the community (and the country, and the world) with this museum - - it’s gorgeous, the collection is exceptional, the grounds are amazing, and most astonishing of all, it’s FREE. No suggested donation (like they have the Met Museum), no admission of any kind. The only time you pay is when you’re going to a special exhibit.
My Aunt Karen put it perfectly: the museum itself, and the grounds, are the best thing about it. I’m used to going to museums in an urban setting, and there’s nothing like the open, easy, expansive feel of Crystal Bridges. I asked a volunteer how much land it’s on: the grounds are on 124 acres, with the museum taking up seven acres. Beautiful ponds, lovely landscaping, and Heidi and Bart use the bike trails all the time. The museum buildings feel very user-friendly, there’s never a moment of feeling you’re in a stuffy old foreboding museum.
A few highlights from the collection: “The Lantern Bearers” by Maxfield Parrish - - breathtaking use of color and composition. A Warhol portrait of Dolly Parton - - something about her eyebrows, she looks very Latina. Not in a bad way! A huge Jeff Koons heart hanging in the restaurant. Norman Rockwell’s “Rosie the Riveter” - - love her muscular arms, her nonchalant look, and especially her right foot stepping on a copy of Hitler’s *Mein Kampf*! My favorite piece was a painting by Gene Davis, “Black Balloon”. Fifty-nine vertical stripes, all the same width - - rust, dark brown, muted blue, and lavender on the right and left, with greens, white, blue, and a single bright orange stripe in the center. Dazzling, full of rhythm. I’m sure someday I’ll transform it into a cross stitch piece.