Lee Krasner- Surviving Jackson Pollock, And An Oscar

Recently, the Art Show Scheduling Gods smiled, and? Voila! A rare chance to see shows of three Artists with an intriguing connection (almost) side by side. I bowed to give them thanks for concurrent shows of Jackson Pollock (at Moma), Lee Krasner (at Robert Miller Gallery) and Philip Guston (at Hauser & Wirth Gallery). The common thread being Pollock. One was married to him for 11 of the 14 years they knew each other. The other considered him his closest boyhood acquaintance. Pollock’s sudden death on August 11, 1956- 60 years ago this week as I write, left a personal and professional void in the lives of both. Then there was the “shadow” of Pollock’s legend they lived under the rest of their lives, which delayed full understanding and appreciation of their own accomplishment and importance. Delayed. Thankfully, not cancelled. Having already written about the Pollock show, this Post is about the Lee Krasner show, and a Post about the Philip Guston show follows.

Lee Krasner @ Robert Miller Gallery.

Lee Krasner @ Robert Miller Gallery. Click any photo in this Blog to see a larger image.

First, consider Lee Krasner’s Short “Curriculum vitae,” i.e.- some of what she had to overcome-

  • -Being an “Artist’s wife,” while married to Jackson Pollock from 1945-1956, a man she would remain devoted to from when they met in 1942, on.
    -Pollock’s rise from barely known to sudden fame in August, 1949. A fame he never adjusted to placing immense burden on her.
    -His death in a car crash (beside another woman, who later wrote a book about she and Pollock) while Krasner was away in Europe. She never remarried.
    -Pollock’s legend, gowing larger in death, helped in no small part by her own efforts, and it’s impact on her own career
    -Working as a Painter for 50 years- before, during and after him, in a somewhat similar realm
    -Knowing personally, and working among, many of the greatest “first generation Abstract Expressionists,” from which she was unfairly excluded.
    -Being a woman in a man’s field.

Sounds like a character in a movie. Lee Krasner had to overcome all of that, and yes…the movie. The movie being 2000’s “Pollock,” featuring Marsha Gay Harden’s Oscar winning portrayal of herself, which Krasner’s biographer, Gail Levin, summed up saying “Inaccuracy about Krasner’s life” was “endemic in the film.” 1 As I wrote about the recent Miles Davis film, and while I am al for artistic license and freedom in the Arts, not nearly enough respect gets paid to the lasting impact to historical persons in so-called “bio-dramas.” The effect of the damage these films do is real and long lasting. It makes me wonder what “good” they do. Most often, the subject is dead and can no longer do anything to defend themselves. Digging out from the wake of Jackson Pollock (who’s work she said first hit her “like an explosion”),  the man, the legend, and the shadow, has been a long, arduous and thorny road. It’s a jumble that is still being traversed, and reversed, as we speak.

"The Eye Is The First Circle," 1960, 70 x 109"

“The Eye Is The First Circle,” 1960, 70 x 109 inches.

In spite of having been an Artist before she met Pollock in 1942, and for the better part of 30 years after his passing, it must be made clear that Lee Krasner was in no small way responsible for his shadow having grown so large 2. She did more than anyone to further Jackson Pollock’s career and his Art, during and after his life, and, as a result, and with the assistance of many others holding her back, her own Art has had as hard a road to acceptance as almost any other Artist in the 20th Century. Much more so than even Pollock’s, who was considered the “ultimate outsider.”

Ever so slowly, but surely, her Art has grown in stature over time. Unfortunately, she died just months before Moma gave her a retrospective in 1984, making her (still) one of the few women to have gotten one. In 2011, Gail Levin released the first full-length biography of her mentioned above. The auction market has been increasingly responsive to her work, as well. First, the Cleveland Museum bought “Celebration,” from 1960, for 1.9 million, then in May, 2008, her “Polar Stampede” sold for 3.1 million3. Based on how much the work of the other first group of Abstract Expressionists sells for, I think her market still has a ways to go. Beyond transactions involving Museums, I care not about how much anyone else pays for Art- it’s meaningless, IMHO, since individuals buy Art for personal or investment purposes, to discussions about “Art.” In Lee Krasner’s case, I merely point it out to show another wall coming down.

"Sundial," 1972

“Sundial,” 1972

In spite of all of this, I believe that Lee Krasner is, still, under appreciated- for her impact on the world of Art, as well as for her Art, which finally can be seen on it’s own, as it is here.

So, with all this in mind, my path still freshly worn, and my shoes, apparently, retaining their muscle memory of the way from the baker’s dozen visits I had just made to Robert Miller Gallery for “Patti Smith-18 Stations,” which had ended the week before, I returned to darken the doorway of this all too familiar space yet again. I will admit- it was a strange feeling to turn that corner half way down the gallery and not see Patti Smith’s chair & table (let alone, Ms. Smith, herself!) from Cafe ‘Ino and “M Train,” and not to see the handwritten pencil notations she’d written on the eastern wall (did they paint over them? Or are they possibly now hidden but protected behind a fake outer wall, like Leonardo Da Vinci’s long lost “Battle of Anghiari” may be?).

The room where Patti Smith's Table & Chair stood 1 week before. "Equilibrium," 1950, center

The room where Patti Smith’s Table & Chair stood 1 week before. “Equilibrium,” 1950, center, with “Lava,” 1949, left and “Untitled,” 1949, which seems to anticipate Jasper Johns, right Ms. Smith’s pencil inscriptions were to the right of the left rear corner pillar.

Yet, Ms. Smith was not entirely absent from this show. Even before the Moma Retrospective, Lee Krasner’s influence had been felt by other artists, especially women artists- including Patti Smith, who wrote of her influence in the introduction to the show’s catalog-

“In 1967 I came to New York City, at twenty years old, with the knowledge of her reputation in tow. I sensed her strength of purpose and aspired to be like her one day. I also hoped, as she, to meet a fellow artist and work with him side by side. It would take, as attested by her choices, much personal strength to commit to the dual sacrifices required by art and love, yet it was my greatest wish.”

Completing the circle, a portrait of Lee Krasner by none other than Robert Mapplethorpe was also included in the catalog.

The show, simply titled, “Lee Krasner,” consists of 33 paintings, drawings and collages the Artist created over the FIFTY Years between 1931 and 1981. What struck me most was the dazzling array of styles it contained, beginning with a realistic Self Portrait, painted at about age 25 (1931-33). She seemed to be trying on painting styles the way other women try on fashion styles. Another interesting thing was that while some works were bursting with color, others were monochrome.  “Color, for me, is a very mysterious thing,” she told Barbaralee Diamonstein in 1978.

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“Lavender,” dated 1942, which is the year she met Pollock.

But what about that “shadow?” When asked about Pollock’s influence on her, here’s what she said (in two different interviews) in my transcriptions-

In one, she told Dorothy Seckler– ” Certainly a great deal happened to me when I saw the Pollocks. Now Pollock saw my work too – I couldn’t measure what effect it had on him. We didn’t talk art – we didn’t have that kind of a relationship at all. In fact, we talked art talk only in a shop sense, but never in terms of discussions about art, so to speak. For one thing, Pollock really felt about it. When he did talk it was extremely pointed and meaningful and I understood what he meant. Naturally he was seeing my work as I certainly saw his.”4

"Equilibrium," 1950. Right in the middle of her marriage to Pollock. Pretty hard to see him in this.

“Equilibrium,” 1950. Right in the middle of her marriage to Pollock. Pretty hard to see his style of the time in this.

While some of the works had elements of Pollock’s techniques, many others did not. Interestingly for me, except for “Lava” dated 1949 when they were married and living together in the Springs, Long Island, the works that had a bit of Pollock in them were from the 1960’s, well after Pollock’s passing. In fact, and most surprising, while I don’t see any works here that scream “Pollock,” there were works that were blatantly in the style of other Artists, including Mondrian, who she knew, and, perhaps most of all, Matisse, who she revered.

Mondrian? No! Krasner's "Untitled," c. 1939-40

Mondrian? No! Krasner’s “Untitled,” c. 1939-40

"Rose Red," 1958. Something of the feel of Matisse's recent Cut-outs.

“Rose Red,” 1958. Something of the feel of Matisse’s recent Cut-outs in this for me.

In the second interview, Barbaralee Diamondstein asked her directly in 1978- “What did you learn from Pollock’s work?”

“I don’t know. I just re…Let me put it this way. Other than what I’ve said before that the transition was as great…Let’s see. If we think of the Renaissance’s concept of space. …Where you are the artist up here, and whatever it is you are using perspective as your means. And you are making you, whatever you are doing with it…And if we go from that concept into cubism the thing is still there in the same sense. Nature is there. I am here as the artist. I observe the only thing is frontal now and that much has taken place. Now, in Pollock, once more there’s another transition. I can’t define it for you, sorry. It’s not my job.”

Lee Krasner's "Brown print variant," Lithograph, 1970

Lee Krasner’s “Brown print variant,” Lithograph, 1970

From what I’ve read, they worked separately. Krasner in a bedroom turned studio and Pollock out in back of the house in the amazing barn with the huge window on one side. I dont’ get the sense there was any collaboration. They would look at each other’s work, when asked to, but there was no direct “teaching” or anything like that. When asked (by Diamondsteen in the same interview)- “There are many who thought that all the while you were nurturing his career- you were not working. What were you doing during that period?” She said, again in my transcription- “I was working all the time. I doubt our relationship would have existed at all if I wasn’t working. In therms of what other people think, I can’t do anything about that. As long as I was able to work, I went about my business.”

"Bird Image," 1963

“Bird Image,” 1963

For me, at least, all of this puts this “shadow” myth to rest, once and for all. Here is an Artist that was left out of the first rank of Abstract Expressionists, many of who appeared in that infamous Life Magazine picture titled “The Irascibles,” which should have included her. She was there in the beginning, knew many of them (even introducing Pollock to de Kooning), and her work was known and respected by them, and, shown with theirs.

So, why did she change her style so often? What was she seeking?

She told Dorothy Seckler- “Well, I do find that I swing from the lyric, to the dramatic and it doesn’t – you know, I have no way of knowing which phase is going to take over.”

And-

“I think my painting is so autobiographical if anyone can take the trouble to read it.” 5.

"Self Portrait," 1931-33

“Self Portrait,” 1931-33

Hmmm…Based on the evidence at Miller, it’s very hard to read her work. Take “Rose Red,” dated 1958, 2 years after the death of her husband. It certainly doesn’t look it. It looks more like Matisse’s late cut-outs, full of life, joy, happiness and spring colors, interspersed with the titular red. Earlier and later works seems to be dialogues with other Artists- Mondrian, Matisse, as I said, maybe Paul Klee. (Untitled, 1949), but yes, there are elements of style that remind of Jackson Pollock, too. Yet, there are works that look ahead, as well. “Untitled,” 1949, as well as her “Hieroglyphic” works and “Little Paintings” of the same period now look like precursors of Jasper Johns. Her later collages, where she uses cut up, or torn pieces of figure study drawings (“Murdered,” she told Diamondstein) she had done in the 1930’s, casting them in a startling, unprecedented way, in a sort of new take on cubism, that also speaks to the amazing capabilities of her eye, first in seeing which drawings to reject, and then seeing this other possibility in them. Amazing.

Finally, there was this quote- “The one constant in life is change 6

Lee Krasner was a unique Artist, who was capable of as many styles as almost any other Artist. For me, the most amazing thing about the Miller show was that every single work, no matter it’s style, holds up as a composition, something I feel is the hardest thing to do in so-called “abstract” (a term she didn’t like) Art, or in any work of Art. Part of this may be because she destroyed the works that didn’t hold up, leaving only 499 works in her Catalog Raisonne, a very small number considering her 50 year career- 10 a year! What does this tell me? She has one HELL of a good eye, which, in the end, is what I admire most about her work, and her. Along with John Graham, and others, she was among the first to “see” Pollock, after all- something I rarely see acknowledged. Seeing this show, with it’s amazing range of styles, it’s clear that she dabbled with influences but all the while stayed on her own path, following her own star, and relentlessly digging deep inside herself. From watching and reading her interviews, it quickly becomes apparent that she had a “strong personality”7. No doubt, she also had a very strong character, which served her in good stead in the company of all the other great artists of strong personalities, like Pollock, she was surrounded with most of her life. I doubt she’d have survived and gotten to where she got in her life, and where she is now, without that inner strength.

"Past Conditional," 1976, A collage of older drawings she rejected..

“Past Conditional,” 1976, A collage of older drawings she rejected..

As I mentioned, Lee Krasner’s legacy lives on, additionally to her Art, through the Pollock-Krasner Foundation (which, since 1985, has awarded over 4,100 grants totaling over 65 million dollars to artists in 77 countries) and the Pollock-Krasner House & Study Center (their former home and studio), which I visited in 1999. It was, truly, an experience I will never forget, and one every Art lover should have on their bucket list. I was surprised how being in their environment gave me a completely new understanding of the Art they created there, which, all of a sudden, didn’t seem nearly as “abstract.”

In addition to this, there is the incalculable debt the world owes her for her generosity. A visit to the Moma website revealed 49 works by Pollock alone that she gifted to them (making her the “unsung star” of their recent Pollock show, as I mentioned in my Pollock Post), a visit to The Met’s site yields about the same number, but who knows what the real total number of works of art that bear the source, “Gift of Lee Krasner Pollock” really is? Overlooked is that we are also increasingly indebted to her for giving her own work.

Taken in total, the shadow SHE now casts looms larger every day. As for the work? As she, herself, said, “I think the process of re-interpretation will continue and that many things will now be re-evaluated. I’m sharply aware of my own re-evaluation.8” This, also, applies to Philip Guston.

"Untitled" (Study for a Mural), 1941. her cubist beginnings echo.

“Untitled” (Study for a Mural), 1941. Echoes of her cubist beginnings.

On the 5th Floor of Moma, her “Untitled,” 1949, hangs on a wall adjacent to “One: Number 31, 1950,” one of her husband’s most well known (and largest) masterpieces. On the wall on the other side of the door next to it hangs Mark Rothko’s “No. 3/No. 13,” 1949, another masterpiece. Facing them is Philip Guston’s “Painting,” from 1954, a shimmering masterpiece from his early “abstract” years.

Krasner, left, and Pollock

Krasner, left, and Pollock, at Moma.

At The Met right now, another Krasner hangs right next to another early 1950’s Guston. Both works directly face another huge Pollock masterpiece, “Autumn Rhythm (Number 30),” 1950.

Lee Krasner, "Untitled," 1948, left with Philip Guston's, "Painting," 1952

Lee Krasner, “Untitled,” 1948, left with Philip Guston’s, “Painting,” 1952,  at The Met.

Detail, Lee Krasner, "Untitled"

Detail of Lee Krasner’s, “Untitled,” 1948.

For me? That is the ultimate test of any work of Art- Hang it next to some masterpieces and let’s see how it does.

To be hung within inches of masterpieces by Mark Rothko, Philip Guston and Jackson Pollock is about as hard as a test gets for American “abstract” Art of this period.

Lee Krasner has found her place.

At last.

*-Soundtrack for this Post is “Dream of Life,” by Patti Smith and Fred “Sonic” Smith.

Comments are off, but that doesn’t mean I don’t welcome them, thoughts, feedback or propositions. Please send them to denizen@nighthawknyc.com
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  1. Gail Levin, “Lee Krasner,” P.1
  2. Levin, P.269, etc
  3. Levin “Lee Krasner” P.4
  4.  Oral history interview with Lee Krasner, 1964 Nov. 2-1968 Apr. 11, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution
  5. Levin, “Lee Krasner” P.11 Levin continues- “A few years later, she said, “I suppose everything is autobiographical in that sense, all experience is, but that doesn’t mean it’s naturalistic reading necessarily. I am sure that all events affect one…but I don’t think it means using a camera and snapping events.”
  6. Interview, 1977
  7. Longtime associate B.H. Friedman in his “Intimate Introduction” to Robert Hobbs’ “Lee Krasner” P.25
  8. Levin, “Lee Krasner,” P12

To- Whoever Owned This Book Before Me

I don’t know who you are, but this Post is for you.

“This book” is an out of print exhibition catalog from the Stuart Davis show at The Metropolitan Museum in 1991. Another of the shows I missed and will forever be sorry I did. Thank goodness it lived on in this superb catalog. Show catalogs are an interesting thing. Widely available while the show is on, they soon go out of print and then become sought after by Artists, specialists and die-hard fans as time passes.  Though The Met said they were going to make all their older publications available as .pdf files online, some, like this one, have been skipped no doubt because it was co-published by a big commercial publishing house, who has a say in that, in this case Abrams.

12 years ago I bought a used paperback copy of it at the now defunct Academy Books and had worn it out. I’ve had my eye out for another copy, one in good condition at a reasonable price for a while. I need it now because I’m in the middle of a Post on the “Stuart Davis: In Full Swing” Show at the new Whitney Museum. My go-to (often) bookstore, The Strand, had one recently, but it wasn’t much better than the one I had, so I passed. A few days later, it was gone. So, I was driven to look online, and finally found this copy.

The Book. The catalog for The Met's 1991 Stuart Davis show, long out of print. Notice the cover Art.

The Book. The catalog for The Met’s 1991 Stuart Davis show, long out of print. Notice the cover Art.

I bought it online from a bookstore. When it arrived, unlike some of my recent experiences buying books online, I found it to be in better condition than I had hoped. People seem to want to upsell the condition of books, which is so shortsighted. Most buyers are going to notice an obvious flaw in something so why try and get over on someone and have it sent back to you and probably get some, deservedly, bad feedback in the process? To help keep it this way, I decided to put a book jacket on it. I’ve been looking through it, but I hadn’t looked inside the back cover. When I removed the dust jacket to wrap it, I did. I found Stuart Davis, himself, looking out at me from a 1912 Self Portrait he painted, apparently in New York, given the background, while he was living in Hoboken, NJ, at age 20. It was in an archival envelope. I opened it up to discover it was the first page of an article about Davis and the 1991 Met Show, carefully removed from an unknown magazine (circa 1991-2) and placed in this envelope to protect it, and so it wouldn’t discolor the book.

Stuart Davis, in his 1912 Self Portrait, looks out at us, 104 years later.

Haunting our City. Stuart Davis, age 20, in his 1912 Self Portrait (with NYC’s old Elevated Subway in the background) looks out at us, 104 years later, from inside the back cover. The original painting is here.

On the back of the last page of the article, someone had cut out and carefully taped the bibliography for the article. Impressive!

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This was something similar to what I’ve done for many years, myself. If you have eclectic taste and/or like Artists or Musicians that aren’t very popular it may be a long time before you find something in print about them. When I did? I’d read it over a few times, then cut it out and save it. I’d stick it inside a book about them (if there was one), inside a record jacket, or later, a CD jewel case.

I buy used books often, since many books I’m interested in are now out of print. Sometimes, the unpleasant aroma of old cigarette smoke hits you, making you wonder if that finally led to this book being here. They don’t make the cut. Sometimes, they come with a previous owner’s name written inside. I usually don’t like anything written in a book. But this one time? I wish the owner had written their name in it.

One day all too soon, physical Art Books will be a thing of the past, as soon as image quality in eBooks catches up with their printed counterpart in a reasonable file size. That might be a while yet. For me? It would be a mixed blessing. Mostly? I have too many large books, as I’m often reminded, so freeing up some space would make a big difference in my life. Beyond that, though, there is something beautiful about a physical Art Book, something that hooked me since I bought my first one, on Rembrandt by Bob Haak as a teenager, and still does. I suspect they will then trade among collectors, like Lp’s do now. No one will ever open an eBook and have this happen to them.

Finding this today? Here was a kindred spirit- someone like me. Someone I’ll never know who feels about Stuart Davis’ work the way I do. Though he didn’t write his name in it, it was personalized in a non-destructive way. Making it one’s own, but not like tattooing it with writing. There’s no need for that in this case- I get it.

That same afternoon, I went back to to see “Stuart Davis: In Full Swing” yet again, as my work continues. I had an errand to do first, so I wound up walking over to the Whitney a different way than I usually do. As I neared the corner of 7th Avenue on West 13th Street, I was stopped in my tracks, when I saw this on the wall.

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“…it was here that he painted many of his most important works including…”

What? Wow!

I have lived in and around NYC almost all of my life, and been in this neighborhood countless times. Yet, I’d never known he lived here! Around the corner is the Village Vanguard, for my money the world’s greatest Jazz Club, where it occupies the same basement it has since 1935. Being a lifelong Jazz lover, I bet he spent quite a few evenings there, as I have, as well. The original Whitney Museum was a short walk away on 8th Street, when he lived here (from 1934-54), as the new one is now in a different direction.

Reading the plaque, I could still feel Stuart Davis’s “Self Portrait” from inside the back cover of the book looking at me. Inside in the lobby hung a large, beautifully framed Stuart Davis Poster. Impressive considering he died 52 years ago, and it’s 62 since he lived here. Looking at the building, it looks like thousands of other buildings in New York, and, probably, the rest of the world. I stood outside pondering it. It wasn’t like the old Bowery that reeked of cheap booze and romantic Artist’s loft studio spaces, the long time homes of Allen Ginsberg, John Cage and othes from the same period, Keith Haring, Joey Ramone, among others, after. It was a nice, modern, kinda faceless apartment building. Nothing about it said that one of the greatest American Artists who has yet lived lived here, except it’s smack-dab in the middle of The Village location.

Then, I continued on, completing the short walk to the Whitney. Inside the show, I lingered in front of “Rapt At Rappaport’s,” from 1952, in it’s interesting frame.

Davis' "Rapt At Rappaport's," 1952, on view at The Whitney, now in the Smithsonian

Look familiar? Davis’ REAL “Rapt At Rappaport’s,” 1952, now on view at The Whitney, from the collection of the Smithsonian.

Davis painted it in the building I had just walked past, as the plaque confirms by name! I never knew that. I’ve seen it before, but now? I’m seeing it anew. It doesn’t depict the neighborhood (Greenwich Village) per se, in fact, it’s an “homage” to “Rappaport’s Toy Bazar,” a store his parents used to take him to as a child many years earlier. The store used polka-dotted paper to wrap gifts, hence, the polka-dots in the upper right, and the work’s title is also a pun on “wrapped.” But, on a different level, now everything about this says “Greenwich Village in the 1950’s.” The child became a man, and that man was an Artist. It drips of the Jazz he heard all around as The Village headed into it’s Jazz & Beat Glory Days. Even the title (using “Rapt” in place of “Wrapped,” for the wrapping paper) is a “Jazz-pun,” as in raptly listening. In addition to being a “souvenir” of his childhood, it’s also a little reminder, a little piece, of that more recent time, and place, The Village- from his then home there on 13th & 7th.

It also happens to be the painting chosen to be the cover Art for my new/old book.

Is this all a bunch of strange coincidences, neatly “Rapt” together with a bow on top? Covering (“wrapping”) the Davis book and being startled to see him looking out at me unexpectedly, as the prior owner had left him, lovingly curated…then accidentally discovering (uncovering?) the very place he painted it’s cover Art… and finally, seeing the original painting shown on the book’s cover. Hmmm…It feels like someone is sending me a message.

Now? Someone else lives in that apartment. Someone else owns this book.

Still? Parts of both live on from before. Very good parts.

Thank you.

*-Soundtrack for this Post is “You Can’t Judge A Book By It’s Cover,” written by Stevie Wonder, Sylvia Moy and Henry Cosby, and preformed by Bo Diddley.

Comments are off, but that doesn’t mean I don’t welcome them, thoughts, feedback or propositions. Please send them to denizen@nighthawknyc.com
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Hallejulah! Calatrava’s Cathedral Opens (UPDATED)

Santiago Calatrava’s new World Trade Center Transit Hub, which officially opened today, August 16, is an unabashed glory of Architecture, a breathtaking masterpiece. What I wasn’t expecting is that it’s, also, a true monument to Freedom.

As far as I’m concerned it has more to do with Freedom than that other building with that term applied to it that stands close by. You know, the one that looks like a giant hypodermic needle. Having avoided the whole Ground Zero area (even though I grew up there), the way all New Yorkers avoid Times Square, mostly out of disgust with what has been erected there thus far, I of course knew about the WTC Transit Hub, but I was afraid something would happen at the last minute and it would have been quashed or horribly altered. As a result, I hadn’t seen this building in progress. When I turned the corner onto Dey Street this afternoon, and saw it before me, a shiver ran down my spine. I was struck by the unforgettable memory of seeing that still smoldering pile of the remains of the World Trade Center right where the Hub now stands. It’s almost 15 years ago, and I can see it like it was yesterday.

I shot this on 9/11 from 5th Avenue and 17th Street.

Yesterday…The World Trade Center on 9/11. I shot this from 5th Avenue and 17th Street.

I wiped my eyes.

“‘Twas in another lifetime, one of toil and blood
When blackness was a virtue the road was full of mud
I came in from the wilderness, a creature void of form
Come in, she said
I’ll give ya shelter from the storm”*

But no. Now? It looked like a big white bird was sitting there.

I had to wipe my eyes when I saw this to wipe away the memory of what I saw on this very spot 15 years ago.

It looked like a Phoenix rising from those very ashes.

Calatrava’s new masterpiece looks like a glorious white bird (a Phoenix, or…ok, an Eagle, not that I’ve ever seen either in person) with GIGANTIC wings large enough to actually offer you a feeling of comfort, even protection (though they won’t even stop the rain), as you stand under them outside. That’s exactly how I felt when I did. The building is Angelic, and not only because it’s white all over- it has an air of something sacred that I can’t describe about it- inside and out. It’s downright Glorious. And? THOSE WINGS! Oh my god…

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A place of peace- unexpected and profound. Angels have wings, I hear.

“Not a word was spoke between us, there was little risk involved
Everything up to that point had been left unresolved
Try imagining a place where it’s always safe and warm
Come in, she said
I’ll give ya shelter from the storm”*

Nothing has had a healing effect on me thus far after that fateful day as seeing this. I don’t know what Santiago Calatrava’s intentions are with this work. I haven’t read anything he, or anyone else has said about it. All I know is that it speaks to me.

Think it's small? Look for the man walking along side about half way for scale.

Think it’s small? Look for the man walking along side to the right side for a sense of scale.

Outside, especially from the front, it looks small. Don’t be deceived. Only the dome is above ground. Inside? It’s HUGE.

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“Set a course for…you know…out there….” Captain Kirk, Star Trek.

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Below the Cathedral’s Dome, two levels of stores, food, etc, with more on wings extending off the sides.

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John Legend had just performed in the center of the floor.

After you walk in, you are immediately presented with a vast football shaped interior. “Cathedral-like” was my first impression. The longer I looked, something struck me- While there are stores all along both levels that stretch out in front of you, you can’t really see them from the viewing platforms on each end! This serves to lessen the “cathedral of shopping” effect that pure shopping malls have, and puts the focus back on the building and it’s architect’s intended impact. (I’m not sure how the merchants feel about this, because it serves to make their shops less identifiable from a distance.) I spent three and a half hours walking in and around it tonite from all sides (yes, including visiting the brand new Apple Store, prominently located and having it’s grand opening today as well. It happens to be one of the 3 Apple Stores with their new store design. Some other stores were open but the complex stretches out in all directions, and I didn’t have a chance to explore all of it today). It may be comparable in size (or bigger?) to the underground mall that was under the World Trade Center and destroyed, as well, on 9/11.

Opening Day for Apple's WTC Store- on both floors, it's 3rd with their new store design.

9pm. Closing time on Opening Day for Apple’s WTC Store- on both floors, it’s 3rd with their new store design. Like the rest of the stores, it’s a bit “hidden” by the building.

Everywhere, inside and out, this Cathedral is clad in pristine white, with copious amounts of white marble included. Just stunning. It’s pristine white glistens even in the dark (my preferred viewing time, of course. UPDATE- August 17- Scroll down to see daylight pics I took today.). The ribs of it’s twin wings soar majestically, impossibly high, providing the eye with a glorious thrill, while straining the neck to unnatural angles, as it traces their course, up, up and away. Wow. Careful! Look too much straight up and you may tip over. Unlike Calatrava’s vision, my feet need to remain on the ground.

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I bent over backward to get this shot. Imagine what it was like to install EVERY ONE of those MASSIVE ribs! Wow. (PS-Don’t call me when they need cleaning.)

Still? That THRILL is an important part of the feeling I want from architecture, Mr. Renzo Piano (who’s new Whitney Museum, which I recently wrote about)! Here is engineering, like the countless, huge ribs (as visible as Mr. Piano’s engineering is at the Whitney), that is both functional and endlessly beautiful to behold.

Even though it is far from completed, right now I’d say this is the greatest new public space in Manhattan since, perhaps, the old Penn Station in 1910. It seems to cast a respectful glance back to Grand Central Terminal (which also lets light in so magically along it’s ceiling and that glorious glass wall). Once completed, Calatrava may have given us a “Grand Central Terminal” for the 21st Century.

Path Train Station. Notice the 2 people looking up at the great hall before them!

Welcome To New York. The Path Train Station. Notice the expression of the 2 people looking up at the great hall before them!

I saw more people taking pictures of it in ten minutes than I have in 15 months take pictures of the new Whitney. Even the guard was proudly posing! Inside, everyone I spoke to from the security guards, to the construction workers taking down the stage from John Legend’s performance had a glow about them. There was actual pride in the voice of one guard I spoke to off in the corner by a staircase. “I don’t know anything about art,” he told me, “but someone came by and said I don’t understand what all the hoopla is about. I told him you have to have an artistic eye.” I shook his hand. Pride from someone who hasn’t even been on the job for 12 hours yet. Inside and out, people from all over the world were not only taking pictures of every angle of the place, they were posing in front of it, next to it, all over it for selfies and groups shots. They felt it, too.

A Security Guard, back to us, poses.

Take a bow! A Security Guard, back to us, poses. Working in a work of Art is it’s own perk.

For me? It’s a new masterpiece this City SORELY needs, ESPECIALLY in a public building. It makes arriving in Manhattan the special thing it is, again. Walking around today, it’s already a hit, less than one day in. I grew up downtown. My father had an office 2 blocks from the World Trade Center. I remember it being built, and I saw it destroyed. Looking around today, after a while of being away, I was just sickened at what’s gone up, like I am in most other areas of the City. While I’m glad the 9/11 Museum seems to be a big hit, I’ll never “get” the building they put it in, which I saw for the first time, and which is right next to Calatrava’s Hub. The Hub directly faces the Memorial Pools, where the Twin Towers stood. Being there today, I was struck by just how big the area is. When I was at the World Trade Center, as gigantic as they were, the surrounding area somehow felt small. Now, it feels big, and it feels like it’s a mishmash of ugly buildings, except this one, that don’t have anything to do with each other. Yeah, like the rest of New York, and that’s a shame. I say this with ultimate respect for all those we lost, and with pain that things haven’t turned out better down there. They deserve better, and so do we. At least we have one great building there, and one, that for me, also speaks to what happened there, as well as to our future.

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Seen from the front, the ribs are short on one side, long on the other. Walk to the back, the short side is now long, the long side, short.

Along with everything else it says to me, it says that YES! It IS possible something great can be built in New York City in the 21st Century!

Quibbles? Well, it’s far from finished, so I’ll hold off getting very critical about it until it’s done, but I will say I don’t like the front doors, on either of the two entrances. Frankly? They look terrible. They feel to me like they weren’t Calatrava’s choice.

But? Given how hard (read that “impossible”) it is for great architects to get ANYTHING built in Manhattan, let alone something as monumental as this is, I’m absolutely thrilled! Best of all, it’s open 24 hours, so I can wander over there any time of day or night to enjoy it’s beauty, and let it continue to speak to me. It’s a dialogue I look forward to continuing. Maybe even in daylight. Well, let’s not get crazy.

I couldn’t help thinking the more it sunk in how great this is that it certainly sets the bar VERY high for the next Penn Station and Port Authority Bus Terminal! GOOD LUCK with that!

“Well, I’m livin’ in a foreign country but I’m bound to cross the line
Beauty walks a razor’s edge, someday I’ll make it mine
If I could only turn back the clock to when God and her were born
Come in, she said
I’ll give ya shelter from the storm”*

UPDATE- August 17- Due to a request I got, I went back to shoot it in the daylight-

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To the left in the background is St. Paul’s Chapel, which somehow survived 9/11, and the top of Frank Gehry’s Apartment Tower in the far distant left.

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Looking up from the dead center of the floor.

All the paraphernalia that was on the floor last night was removed leaving a large, open glorious space. I hope it stays that way.

All the paraphernalia that was on the floor last night was removed leaving a large, open glorious space. I hope it stays that way.

 *-Soundtrack for this Post is “Shelter From The Storm” by Bob Dylan, published by Bob Dylan Music Co., from “Blood On The Tracks.”

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Move Over Harry- Gary Schwartz Released A New Book!

“Where your treasure is,
There will your heart be also.”*

As if I don’t have enough books, or enough books by Gary Schwartz (4, now 5), the release of his newest book is a cause for celebration around here. It’s as big a deal for me as the release of a new Harry Potter book is for the rest of the world. Mr. Schwartz’ new book is filled with more magic, sorcery, lost knowledge, and mystery than all the Potter books combined! Not to mention some of the greatest Art in the Western World.

The line will be a lot shorter for this one.

The waiting line will be a lot shorter for this one.

It’s subject is no less than Jheronimus Bosch, the birth name of the Artist better known as Hieronymus Bosch, one of the most mystical, unique and elusive Artists in Western Art. If anyone can track him down, my money is on Gary Schwartz. Track him down he does, going into extraordinary detail on his life, works and times, discussing each and every work in his inimitable way that almost no other Art Historian has- he gives you the technical details along with the humanity like he’s talking to “regular people,” and not a doctoral class in Art History. I marvel at his ability to do so. THIS is how Art should be taught, explained and passed on, IMHO.

I’ll sum up this book in 3 words- “Bravo, and Hallejulah!” Bravo for (another) classic & essential Art monograph, and Hallejulah we got another one by Gary Schwartz!

Given that this past week (August 9) marked the 500th Anniversary of his death, it’s already been a big year for Bosch. A show that I’m sorry I missed commemorated the anniversary in his former home town, Hertogenbosch in The Netherlands, then there was the release of the Bosch Catalogue Raisonne (and related Technical Studies) by the Bosch Research & Conservation Project (BRCP), 5+ years in the making, geared to establishing once and for all, which works the Master actually did create, and which he didn’t. Given all this hoopla, the timing of Mr. Schwartz’ newest book, “Jheronimus Bosch: The Road to Heaven and Hell,” couldn’t be more auspicious. It’s release seemingly makes it go head to head with the BRCP’s 2 books.

But, showing the true colors of his collegial spirit, Mr. Schwartz wrote the very first review posted on Amazon of the Bosch Catalog Raisonne, giving it 5 stars, saying both BRCP books were “Raising the bar.” Check it out. It may be the best review I’ve ever read on Amazon.

Gary Schwartz is the same man who had the audacity to write a book called “The Rembrandt Book” in 2006. There are, possibly, as many books devoted to Rembrandt as any other Artist in history. Was he saying, “Forget all of them, this is THE Rembrandt Book?” I wondered. Now? If I had to choose one Rembrandt book to take with me? That would it. And, I now actually call it “THE Rembrandt Book,” even though it was no less than his second full length monograph on the Dutch Master, following “Rembrandt: His Life, His Paintings,” from 1985. When I first looked them over side by side, my jaw hit the floor of The Strand. What most amazed me is that they were written 20 years apart, and they are completely different! Whoa. How much does he know about Rembrandt? I consider them both essential for Rembrandt lovers.

Essential, and sadly Out of Print. The Strand is asking 95.00 for a copy like mine. If you look hard, you can find a decent one for 30. online.

Essential, and sadly out of print. The Strand is asking 95.00 for a copy like mine, above. If you look hard, you can find a decent one for 30. online.

Now? He’s done it again. 19 years after releasing a 92 page book, called “First Impressions, Hieronymus Bosch” (1997), which as it’s title hints, is a fine introduction to Bosch,

Released in 1997, now out of print. A great introduction to Bosch. I got mine for 9. at The Strand late last year.

Released in 1997, now out of print. A great introduction to Bosch. I got mine for 9. at The Strand late last year.

“Jheronimus Bosch: The Road to Heaven and Hell” is a “The Rembrandt Book”-style monograph on Bosch. To my way of thinking it’s as close to “definitive” as we may be likely to see for some time, with all due respect to the BRCP’s Catalog Raisonne (which is for specialists, and while focused on the works in unprecedented depth using ground breaking techniques, doesn’t tie the work in with the biographical depth Mr. Schwartz does. Translation- I’m not a Bosch specialist.). Mr. Schwartz has an almost magical way of unearthing details about Artists that lived all these hundreds of years ago, and sifting through the existing documentation with knowing eyes that you just don’t get in other books. (He does include some of the BRCP’s findings, though it appears their work wasn’t completed while he was writing his.) Besides, there are so few works by Bosch, whoever’s word you take for it, that I know I’m not going to miss any either way.

I’ve come to trust Gary Schwartz when it comes to the “last word” on an artist. Mr. Schwartz has earned my trust, the hard way-with Rembrandt. But you don’t have to take my word for it- Simon Schama, of the superb Art Documentaries “The Power of Art,” Art Historian & Professor of Art History at Columbia University, co-dedicated his excellent Rembrandt Biography, “Rembrandt’s Eyes,” to Gary Schwartz. After reading Mr. Schwartz’ Rembrandt books, which, coincidentally, came about during the work of another Research organization, the Rembrandt Research Project (RRP), who were also endeavoring to compile a verified canon of authentic works, and reading his assessment of their findings, I found myself in agreement with Mr. Schwartz on contested works like the Frick Collection’s “Polish Rider,” and others. I now trust his judgement about what’s what- no small thing when the world’s supreme experts are so vociferously at odds over things like what’s a real Bosch, or Rembrandt, and which isn’t. Hundreds of millions of dollars ride on the outcome of those arguments, not to mention the pride of the Museums home to these works. But? It’s not my money. (Phew.) I only care about learning about the Artist, trying to get a feel for his style and work and see if I can spot it in all these discussions, and how the work fits in with his life story. My guess is that Mr Schwartz appears to share similar motivations- he wants the truth. He’s not bashful about (respectfully) going against other experts if his research bears it out. He trusts himself- his own mind, and of course, a lifetime of research, experience and incomparable expertise.

Owls appear all over Bosch's work, so how can I not love him? Heres' one of my faves. Note the eyes and ears!

Owls appear all over Bosch’s work, so how can I not love him? Here’s one of my faves. Note the eyes and ears. It strikes me as a statement about the world right now.

While  you can read more of his writing on his website, and it’s all fascinating, unique and worth every bit of your while, getting a book like this is a rare gift, one that must have taken him years of very hard work to put together.

“You’ll stay with me?
Until the very end,’ said James.”*

So, the next time you’re in your better brick & mortar Bookstore, see if they have “Jheronimus Bosch: The Road to Heaven and Hell” by Gary Schwartz and published by The Overlook Press. Pick it up and thumb through it. I guarantee it will cast a spell on you, too.

PS- I only hope his next book is on Jan (or Jan & Hubert) Van Eyck…

*- Quotations from “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” by J.K. Rowling, published by Arthur A. Levine Books, 2009. The first quote also appears in Matthew 6:19-24.

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Magda…In Full Effect

Those of you who met my friend Magda (i.e. Magdalena Truchan, Graphic Designer/Artist, Fashion Guru and Blogger-extraordinare from prettycripple.com) from my Post chronicling our fashion shopping spree a while back (which included visits to some Meatpacking District boutiques since shuttered) now have a chance to meet her up close and personal, i.e. in full effect- visually and verbally, here, over at Wear Your Voice.com. I thought I’d post this link because I realize that I wrote about her without giving much of an introduction to her. So, now here’s your chance to get a good idea what’s she’s all about.

And, of course, you can still catch her at her terrific Blog, too.

Magda stoping traffic in Madison Square Garden's Lobby before Morrissey, June, 2015

Magda standing out from the hum drum crowd, as always. Madison Square Garden’s Lobby before Morrissey, June, 2015

Maybe now, you’ll agree with me that she Rocks, AND she Rolls!

*-Soundtrack for this Post is “I Know It’s Gonna Happen Someday,” by Morrissey and Mark Nevin, published by Warner Chappell Music Publishing and from “Your Arsenal.”

“Don’t lose faith
I know it’s gonna happen someday
To you”*

Comments are off, but that doesn’t mean I don’t welcome them, thoughts, feedback or propositions. Please send them to denizen@nighthawknyc.com
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The New Whitney Museum- The Roofdeck of American Art

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“American Tune”
“We come on the ship they call the Mayflower
We come on the ship that sailed the moon
We come in the age’s most uncertain hour
and sing an American tune”*

Looking west on the 6th Floor Roof deck, Spring, 2016.

Looking west on the 6th Floor Roof deck, Spring, 2016.

Part 1- The New Whitney Museum…And I

We actually go way back…

All the way back to June, 1987 when I had a letter published in the New York Times in opposition to the proposed expansion plans of the Guggenheim & Whitney Museums, after it was announced that both Museums wanted to modify & expand their existing buildings. I was outraged. How could you change these two singular masterworks without ruining them? I closed saying that “branch museums were the obvious answer” to modifying these Artworks of Architecture, in the Guggenheim’s case, Frank Lloyd Wright’s masterpiece was, perhaps, the greatest work of Art it owns. I went to the Community Board Meetings, but wasn’t directly involved beyond this letter. Mine was apparently chosen over the head of the opposition committee’s letter, much to his displeasure, I heard.

My letter in the NY Times Op-Ed page opposing the Whitney & Guggenheim Expansions, June, 1987

My letter in the NY Times Op-Ed page opposing the Whitney & Guggenheim Expansions, June, 1987

Almost 30 years later (wow…really?), how did “we” do?

Well, BOTH Museums took my “advice” and opened branch museums. The Whitney had a few around town, one across from Grand Central, another in Soho, while the Guggenheim opened what is, perhaps, the greatest Museum building since Wright’s enduring 5th Avenue masterpiece…by Frank Gehry in Bilbao, Spain of all places. It’s a “place” now, a true destination for culture vultures. They showed a model of another Gehry masterpiece they wanted to build downtown in the East River at the Guggenheim Gehry Retrospective in 2000. I bought a poster of it but, after 9/11, it was never mentioned again. ? They went ahead and remodeled Wright’s masterpiece, anyway, which I will never accept, AND continue to open branch Museums around the world as we speak. The Whitney, on the other hand, did not renovate Breuer’s unique original. Instead, we got something I never saw coming- They moved out and built an entirely new Museum.

Wow!

So? On my scorecard? I am one and a half out of 2.

The New Whitney opened in May, 2015 in the Meatpacking District, right at the southern end of the High Line. I’ve made frequent trips there so far studying the building from every angle I could, at night, and yes, even in day light. (Oh, the sacrifices I will make in the pursuit of Art.) The inaugural, and as I’ve said very good, show, in the new Renzo Piano building, “American Is Hard To See,” came and went. I also wrote about both the Frank Stella Retrospective and a show by filmmaker Laura Poitras that came and went, too, along with quite a few smaller shows. So, a few months after the 1 year Anniversary, I think I’ve finally had enough time and experience with the new place, over 45 visits, to have some thoughts coalesce. As always, I have not read any reviews of either the building or the shows mentioned.

Part 2- Renzo Piano’s Whitney Museum Building

U.S.S. Indianapolis. US Navy Photo

The U.S.S. Indianapolis, Why is this picture here? (U.S. Navy Photo.)

It’s only a year or so old, but I don’t think many will fall in love with the exterior of the building. I must say that in all my trips there so far, I have yet to see anyone else take a picture of it. Maybe (more) time will tell. In this City where location isn’t everything, it’s the ONLY thing, the new Whitney sits on a rather unique lot. How many places in Manhattan can you think of that have BOTH a River view AND a Park view? Situated directly across the West Side Highway from the Hudson River, to the west, and the southern end of the High Line to the immediate east, the Museum hit on a very rare Daily Double. Unfortunately for long time Whitney architect Piano, who came on board during the Museum’s “expansion” days, this lot has 4 sides. To the north, the rest of the block is occupied by one of the few remaining Meat Packing businesses that actually pack meat in what really was The Meatpacking District.1 Yes, trucks of raw meat park within inches of the Museum’s north wall every weekday.

Yes, meat is still packed in the "Meatpacking District." Whitney's north side seen from West Street.

Yes, meat is still packed in the “Meatpacking District.” Whitney’s north side seen from West Street.

And, seen from the High Line.

And, seen from the High Line.

The two story meat complex provides a nearly unobstructed view of most of the north face of the Museum, from West Street or the High Line. I wonder what people who don’t know it’s the Museum think it is. I wonder how many of them will look at it and say, “Ah. A Museum.” My guess is not many. Maybe it’s an office building with not enough windows and a couple of long smoke stacks? A prison? It’s pretty non-descrip, making the stair cases that protrude from the rear of the building seem, well, odd. For myself, and probably countless others approaching the New Whit from the north, this is the first view they’ll get of it. The one defining feature of this side of the building is the exterior staircases. A cascade of them.

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Outdoor stairs as seen on the 7th Floor

To the south, across Gansevoort Street is a large, renovated apartment building, that also has Hudson River views on it’s western side. To put it mildly, this is a classic “high rent” district. Facing Gansevoort Street, the Museum presents visitors with an almost unbroken face of grey steel. Upon closer inspection, it also includes the Museum’s almost hidden entrance, which, until a sign was added recently, was only marked “Whitney Museum” on a glass window. Still, I can’t help wonder how the residents of that building across Gansevoort feel about paying those very high rents to look out their windows and see-

This, is their view.

This, is their view.

In fact, seen from the south, the building is so large that none of my cameras were able to get the whole thing in a shot from Gansevoort, including using an iPhone in Panorama mode. I had to go out into West Street to get one, which I don’t advise doing due to traffic coming randomly from 3 directions, not to mention my back being literally on the flimsy chain link fence bordering the West Side Highway with cars & trucks zipping around the bend at 60mph. Not a smart place to be standing with a camera. But this points out something interesting- there is no place where one can easily stand to get a good shot of the Museum- except, possibly, from a substantial distance. In fact, most of the shots of the building on the Whitney www site were taken from the rooftops of adjacent buildings. Maybe this is why no one takes pictures of it. Or? Maybe they don’t like it. ?

The closest I've come do death this year. The West Side Highway is inches behind me.

NOT to die for. I risked my life getting this shot. Southwest corner.

As we move to the western facade, with the large windows seen above (which reminds me of Zaha Hadid’s Library in Vienna), the upper one juts out at an angle seen from the north that vaguely reminds of the Breuer building’s Madison Avenue upper window.

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But more problematically, is a large Department of Sanitation complex smack dab right in front of it! “Holy Refuse Pile, Artman!” Garbage trucks coming and going all day and evening are not exactly what gives a “Riv View” it’s cache. (Feel free to insert your own wry joke about contemporary art here. I’ll wait…)

View of the Department of Sanitation from the 7th Floor stairs, 2015.

Riv View. Looking out at the Department of Sanitation from the 7th Floor stairs, 2015.

Mr. Piano has done his best to “minimize” the damage from the “offending” Department of Sanitation, and eternally busy West Side Highway, by opting to minimize the exposure of the western facade leaving a very narrow patio where, typically, only a few chairs usually are to be seen. It sits a few scant feet from the West Side Highway, after all, so it’s hard to imagine many people wanting to sit there for long. 3 trees have been planted along the curb in hope that one day they will provide some camouflage.

View from in front of the western facade, July, 2015, Being a tree in NYC is one helluva hard job.

View from in front of the western facade, July, 2016, Being a tree in NYC is one helluva hard job.

Regardless of the difficulties in seeing the building close up, it can be seen, for many blocks, both, to the north and south along the West Side Highway, and from across the Hudson River in New Jersey. Thanks(?) to the High Line there has been a boon in building in the area, with some very big name Starchitects (including, as I’ve written, the late Zaha Hadid’s only NYC Building going up at 520 West 28th Street, among many others) having new or recent projects in the area- some successful, some eyesores already. No less than Frank Gehry, the greatest architect of his time, in my book, himself, has a fairly new building about 6 blocks to the north of the New Whitney along the Highway, the gorgeous IAC Headquarters at 18th Street.

Like a sailboat on the Hudson, Frank Gehry's IAC Building is a gorgeous vision.

Like a sailboat on the Hudson it faces, Frank Gehry’s IAC Building is a shining example of the visionary architecture NYC needs more of, IMHO.

But, say what you want about this new Museum (don’t worry…I will), one thing that must be said is that the building isn’t obsessed with competing with it’s spectacular neighbor. Well? Not that spectacular neighbor, anyway. If anything, it sure feels to me like it’s competing with it’s OTHER “spectacular neighbor”- the High Line.

Southern terminus of the High Line, circa 2009. The new Whitney now occupies the space directly behind the left side.

Southern terminus of the High Line, circa 2010, early in the construction of the new Whitney directly behind on the left side. And today, and tonite…

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That brings us to the east side of the building, the side that abuts the High Line. Renzo Piano also designed the High Line Maintenance & Operations Building,

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High Line Maintenance & Operations Building on the lot’s northeast corner.

which looks like it’s part of the Whitney, occupying the north eastern corner of the lot. Next to that are a rectangular bank of windows of the 5th Floor Galleries. The lowest rectangle is cleverly cantilevered over the lower floors in a way that vaguely reminds of Wright’s Fallingwater. Above it are more rectangular rows of windows on the other gallery floors, which are accompanied by roof decks and outdoor stairs between floors.

Eastern face with 1st floor restaurant seen from the High Line.

Cantilevered lower eastern face with 1st floor restaurant seen from the High Line.

And, these are what raise my suspicion about purpose. So much outdoor space, and outdoor stairs in a place with the climate of Manhattan could be seen as highly questionable design. They are going to be unusable a good part of the year, so why do them? Aesthetically, to my eyes, the stairs look uncannily similar to the High Line’s access stairs. I wondered- Is this a case of “art snobbery” by an expensive to build, expensive to enter Museum trying to “upstage” a free & public park- a poorly thought out game of oneupmanship? An attempt to “blend in” with the High Line? Or?

Whitney Museum Stairs. Imitation is sincere flattery.

Whitney Museum Eastern Facade Exterior Stairs close up

High Line Stairs at West 20th Street

High Line Stairs at West 20th Street

Other questions festered. Back along the south face. I spent a long time trying to think of what the shape of this building reminded me of. Hmmmm…Then one day, it hit me- From the south it looks like one of the US Navy’s newest ships- the USS Independence. From this side, it looks like it’s ready to go out to sea, well, out to the Hudson River. This feeling is hard to shake when you are looking at the few windows that look a bit like portholes, the “military—like” grey coloring, and the slightly sloping (i.e. “stealthy”) look of the upper floors. Add the rear decks and stairs to the Independence and the effect is so similar, it’s down right eerie.

Ok, flip the cantilever to the rear, and...? Eerily uncanny, no?

U.S.S. Indianapolis, again, with my highlighting. Ok, flip the cantilever to the rear, and…? Eerily uncanny, no?

Photo from Renzo Piano Building Workshop website.

Photo from Renzo Piano Building Workshop website. Note that all of the “neighbors” have been removed, except for the High Line.

Part 3- The Roofdeck of American Art

Bring sunscreen.

Want a tan with your art? 6th Floor deck, Spring, 2016.

Yes, that is what I’m calling the New Whitney- “The Roofdeck of American Art.” I think the decks are what people will remember most about the building. I only hope it’s not what they remember most about their visit. That will be up to the Museum’s curators and staff. But? As I will get to, I think other forces are at work, too.

With 4 roof decks, I bet some will come only to enjoy the view and get some sun. The Museum turns the face the vast majority of visitors will experience most to it’s “rear,” to it’s east side facing the High Line. Doing so gives Mr. Piano a very convenient out of his Sanitation Department dilemma, “Riv View” notwithstanding, and allows a wonderful panorama of Manhattan, from Chelsea Piers to the north, the Empire State in the center and the Statue of Liberty, distantly, to the south. The decks allow space for dining (8th floor), sculpture (5th floor and the others), seating, and that 21st Century phenomenon- selfie sticks.

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8th Floor Deck.

It’s very nice. You’ll like it. Bring sunscreen.

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I promise that top ramp won’t be bent when you visit the 7th Floor Deck.

Part 4- Inside. “Hey look! They have art here…too!”

Inside, the first floor is the lobby, the most unsuccessful part of the entire interior- it’s an open space. The message here is “keep moving.” It’s about as unwelcoming a space as Moma’s lobby. (Actually, ALL of Moma, which for me stands for what it feels like- the “Mall of Modern Art,” feels unwelcoming!)

Welcome? No one will ever mistake the lobby for the Great Hall at The Met. Front door is opposite, where the black mat is.

Welcome? No one will ever mistake the lobby for the Great Hall at The Met. Front door is to the right of the nearest exposed column. Engineering made visible abounds. The free 1st floor gallery is to the immediate right, outside of the rope fence, which denotes you are in the Museum.

Once inside, here’s the routine I’ve settled upon, which probably sounds confusing- After entering as quickly as possible to minimize the time spent in the “lobby,” a short trip downstairs (don’t take the elevators- the wait is too long) brings you to the coatroom and the rest rooms (there are others restrooms on 3, 5, 7 and 8). The feeling here is 180 degrees from the lobby. This is completely designed. It makes you wonder what the hell happened upstairs. Take the stairs back to 1 and walk out past the rope line (keep your admission ticket handy) and visit the first floor gallery, which is free all the time. (Or, yes, you could visit the 1st floor gallery before paying to get in. I prefer to get my admission ticket first, which means I have to show it twice.) After that, show your ticket and get back in the Museum proper then take an elevator to the whatever floor you wish to see first- 3 (where the theater is for concerts, dance performances, etc), 5,6,7 or 8 (where the galleries are). Bear in mind there is no 2nd or 4th floor- they didn’t pay enough money to get those. No, at 422 million dollars, they did, but those floors are reserved for Museum staff and functions, so they’ve disappeared from the public elevator buttons.

5th Floor seen during the Frank Stella Retrospective, Feb, 2016. The smaller walls can be moved to provide countless configuration possibilities.

5th Floor seen during the Frank Stella Retrospective, Feb, 2016. The smaller walls can be moved to provide countless configuration possibilities.

00Inside, the building is very sharp, clean and neat with natural wood floors and new, white walls all around. As the rectangular shape belies, form mostly follows function, and 4 of the floors are given over to large, rectangular galleries. The open space allows for movable walls can be easily repositioned to allow an extremely wide range of configurations. Each floor is very well lit, (something that is continually a problem at The Met). With 3 sets of stair cases, there are plenty of stairs . None go all the way from 1-8, however. On the western wall, as seen below, stairs go from the 3rd floor to the 8th. To the east of the elevators, stairs run from 5 to the 1st floor. And, there are the exterior stairs on 6,7 and 8. The stairs are good to familiarize yourself with, since there is almost always a wait, the elevators are best used for going from 1 to 8 or from 5 to 1. The entire building, inside and out, is wheelchair accessible.

Western stairs, Spring, 2016. They seem to be dismantling the Sanitation complex. The Whit might be hoping a tower doesn’t go up in it’s stead.

Renzo Piano strikes me as a Master Engineer more than as a brilliant Architect. I got that feeling when I first saw the Pompidou Centre in Paris, with it’s engineering on the outside, and again with his New York Times Building (which he inherited from Gehry). Yes, he has done some beautiful buildings, but I repeatedly get the feeling of Piano, the Engineer, when I look at his work, and that shouldn’t be the primary feeling I’m left with. There is quite a bit of engineering being shown off, here too, much of it on the first floor, some in the exposed gallery ceilings, and some on the roof decks.

The 8th floor gallery lets in ambient sky light.

The 8th floor gallery lets in ambient sky light.

Now for the “nitty gritty.”

Given the luxury of having over a year to assess it, I’ve begun to wonder about the adequacy of the 50,000 square feet of indoor exhibition space, as nice as it is. “America Is Hard To See,” fit the whole Museum well, and showed it off to fine effect. Then, while the Frank Stella Retrospective was excellent, it only included 5 of his prints, and only 1 of his “Moby Dick” works. Was this because of hard decisions due to a prolific, 50+ year career, or due to a lack of space on the 5th floor? Currently, the otherwise excellent “Stuart Davis: In Full Swing” show feels unmistakably truncated. It shares the 5th floor with the “Danny Lyon: Message To The Future” show, (which may be overambitious). By comparison, The Met’s Stuart Davis show in 1991-92 had almost twice as many works, including over 30 that dated before the earliest work in the Whit’s show, like some from his “Van Gogh” period. While these have been going on indoors, I’ve been underwhelmed by what’s been installed thus far on the outdoor 5th Floor exhibition space. As time goes on, I’m starting to feel the 5th Floor may turn out to be a design mistake. Part of it is cut off to allow an entrance and exit corridor for the outdoor space, which is generally in shadow, and results in leaving a small indoor gallery on the other side of the outdoor gallery access corridor, which feels lost, and most importantly cuts down the size of the congruent 5th floor space. The other floors with outdoor decks run right up to the door leading outside with no corridor, etc.

The 5th Floor is cut to allow this exit corridor to the Roof Deck Gallery, leaving a small gallery to the left that feels lost.

The eastern end of the 5th Floor gallery is cut to allow this exit corridor to the Roof Deck, which leaves the small gallery to the left that feels lost.

The Whitney says there is 13,000 square feet of outdoor space, over 25% of the amount of indoor space. I’m left to ask the age old question…”Did they create enough INDOOR space to display Art?,” the prime purpose of a Museum. Time will tell, BUT? If they didn’t? This will be a disaster reminiscent of Moma’s inexcusably horrible current/new building, where they somehow managed to create a massive multistory hole right in the middle of some of THE most expensive real estate on Earth, then claim they “need more space,” 10 years later!

You can’t make this stuff up!!!

5th Floor Deck.

5th Floor Deck with installation. Yes, the colored seats are the Art work.

If the Whit needs more indoor space, well, the roof decks seem easy to enclose, and voila, 13,000 square feet more gallery space.

Or? PLEASE don’t tell me they’d have to expand this new building north, or up. I’m done writing letters. Besides, as much as I admire and respect Mrs. Gertrude V. Whitney and the collection built on hers, I have no attachment to this building.

And that brings me to this- Through it all, one thought stayed on my mind more than any other. I wonder what she would have thought of the place…

Part 5 – Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney

“And I dreamed I was flying
And high up above my eyes could clearly see
The Statue of Liberty
Sailing away to sea
And I dreamed I was flying”*

Portrait of Gertrude V. Whitney, 1917 by Robert Henri. Study for a Head for the Titanic Memorial by Mrs. Gertrude V. Whitney, in the background from "America Is Hard To See," 2015

Portrait of Gertrude V. Whitney, 1917 by Robert Henri. Study for a Head for the Titanic Memorial by Mrs. Gertrude V. Whitney, in the right background from “America Is Hard To See,” 2015

The founder of the Whitney Museum, as was beautifully demonstrated, remembered and honored in the first floor free to enter at all times gallery, where “America Is Hard To See” began was, also, a very accomplished sculptor2, in addition to being the greatest champion of American Art, perhaps ever. Immediately upon entering the first floor gallery, the first thing you saw was, fittingly, the wonderful portrait of her by Robert Henri that was perfectly placed facing the door, which also enabled it to be seen from outside the building, the only artwork that was. I wish it had been left right there. It wasn’t. As I write this, it’s upstairs as part of the “Human Interest: Portraits from the Whitney’s Collection” show. One of my pet peeves in Museum re-designs is how often they fail to answer this, seemingly basic, question- “Where are we going to put such and such major masterpiece?” Moma failed this miserably- How many times have they moved Monet’s “Waterlillies”, or Van Gogh’s “Starry Night”, in a vain attempt to find the right spot for each? This is unforgivable. While the Whitney has found a great spot for Calder’s Circus,

Calder's ingenious "Circus." When you go, be sure to see the accompanying video!

Home… at last. Calder’s ingenious “Circus.” When you go, be sure to see the accompanying video.

which was lost in the Breuer Building’s mezzanine, I’m left to wonder about Mrs. Whitney’s Portrait. Will it become their Waterlillies?

One of the very greatest figures in American Art History looks out on her domain, Portrait by Robert Henri, 1917. 1st Floor Gallery, seen from outside the building during "America is Hard to See," 2015. After? They should have left it right there.

One of the greatest figures in American Art History looks out on her domain. 1st Floor Gallery, during “America is Hard to See,” 2015. After? They should have left it right there.

Beyond her portrait’s place in the Museum, I wonder what she’d think of it. It’s still “her” Museum. They even, recently, put the name “Whitney Museum of American Art” on the southern facade. The new place is located a stone’s throw from the site of the first Whitney Museum that she opened in 1931 at 8 West 8th Street, and equally close to where Edward Hopper lived and worked on Washington Square. Edward & Josephine Hopper left their artistic estate to the Whitney, in honor of their long relationship with Mrs. Whitney. When the new Museum opened, there was a selection of Edward Hopper drawings from 1925 that he did at the Whitney Studio Club, which preceded the founding of the Museum, in the first floor gallery, adjacent to Henri’s Portrait of Mrs. Whitney, seen above. As time goes on, I think this gift will be seen as one of the greatest Art gifts of the 20th Century, even though it didn’t consist of many of Edward’s paintings. That’s when I try and forget the fact that the Whitney, tragically and unforgivably, discarded almost all of Josephine Hopper’s work that was included with it!

While we’ll never know what Mrs. Whitney would think of the new home of her collection, I know what I think.

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Oneupsmanship? “Hey you down there on the High Line- You think you’re high up? Ha!”

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I’ve spent a year wondering- Why put 13,000 square feet of outdoor space in a building in a place with a climate like NYC?

5th Floor roof deck with a Frank Stella Sculpture & reflection, Feb, 2016

5th Floor roof deck with a Frank Stella Sculpture & reflection, in the snow, Feb, 2016

Part 6- 5,000,000 Reasons

As I said, real estate in NYC is all about location. That applies to the Art world, too. The Met & The Guggenheim are in, or near, Central Park, and there is now talk of The Met creating a Central Park entrance as part of their Contemporary Art Galleries reconstruction3. Moma has the heart of midtown, and now the Whitney has the High Line. In my opinion, the location was selected, and the New Whitney is designed, to be a destination for High Line visitors- It’s roof decks are meant to beckon High Liners with an even better view since they are higher. That’s one explanation for the stair designs looking similar- imitation that’s designed to make High Liners feel the Museum is part of the High Line. And so? Location also pays off by providing a potential mass audience delivered right to your door. How much is that worth to a Museum? Given that the High Line currently draws over 5,000,000 visitors a year, it’s hard not to see this as a conscious decision designed to attract visitors for an even better view, and oh yeah, some Art. Once inside? I’ve already come to feel that the gallery size is limiting. As the collection grows (do Museum collections ever shrink?), I am left to wonder how quickly they’re going to wish they had some of that 13,000 square feet that’s sitting outside, inside.

But? If I’m correct about their motivation, the outdoors stairs & decks exist to beckon people from the High Line, which, is open year round, come rain, snow, or shine.

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“We come on the ship they call the Mayflower
We come on the ship that sailed the moon
We come in the age’s most uncertain hour
and sing an American tune
But it’s all right, it’s all right
You can’t be forever blessed”*

Overall? I’m displeased by the outward appearance of the new Whitney. Over a  year of trying to warm to it, of giving it yet another chance to speak to me later, I still find it downright strange. As an Art Museum, the inside is nice, with the above caveats. As far as the Art is concerned? I’m glad to have the Whitney’s pre-eminient collection of American Art back, and “America Is Hard To See” was a wonderful “Welcome Back” celebration of it’s return after the move Downtown. The Whitney is, also, to be congratulated for the guts they’e displayed in the choices of their early shows- giving Laura Poitras her first Museum show, featuring the great Cecil Taylor for a week, and having the retrospectives of modern master Frank Stella and the vastly underrated Stuart Davis (who Mrs. Whitney, herself, believed in and financially supported early on), among others, all have made the first year of the New Whitney Museum’s exhibitions quite memorable, and yes, very Artistically successful.

Yet? How long will the waters stay calm for the U.S.S. New Whitney Museum? The big question of long term success and long term viability remain to be answered.

Epilogue – The Whitney’s 422 Million Dollar Gamble

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The Whitney’s move downtown isn’t about moving nearer the “New” Art neighborhood of Chelsea or the “Older” Art neighborhood of Soho. It strikes me as being a a case of seeing an opportunity and taking it. They found a lot at one of the 2 ends of the High Line and saw their opportunity to move to a potential audience- the 5,000,000 current visitors to the High Line, and they took it. I believe that’s why their stairs look like the High Line’s, as I said.

For the Whitney, this is a $430,000,000.00 (the cost of the new building) gamble that the High Line is not a flash in the pan and it’s popularity is here to stay. If the High Line fails? Well? The City was about to tear it down anyway before it was turned into a Park.

But, if the High Line does fail (which seems unlikely at the moment), or visitors come in substantially lower numbers (much more likely), the Whitney may find themselves stranded, with an out of the way Museum that is not easily accessible by either bus or subway in a neighborhood that has a history of being “the wild west,” home to meat packing, prostitution, cutting edge music, and sex clubs (Madonna’s notorious book “Sex” was photographed almost 25 years ago at one 3 blocks away) not all that long ago, that has been remade with extra glitz and top of the market rents. And what about that neighborhood? What if the new glitz doesn’t stick? What if it all turns out to be wishful thinking on the part of landlords looking to make a killing after years of squalor? Walking around the past few months, the area seems to be having a bit of trouble supporting many of it’s ritzy new tenants at these prices. And? This is over a year after the Whitney added even more oomph to the now completed High Line being here.

Empty storefronts on Gansevoort, one block east of the Whitney, August, 2016

Empty storefronts on Gansevoort fill 3/4 of the block, one block east of the Whitney, August, 2016

Is the “Meatpacking District” a fad destination that is about to fade? If so, what effect will this have on the new Whitney? Can it survive in a “not so fab” neighborhood?

La Perla joins Alexander McQueen & Stella McCartney as former tenants of the Meatpacking District

Is the buzz over? La Perla joins Alexander McQueen & Stella McCartney as former tenants of the Meatpacking District who have moved elsewhere.

While collectors and investors throw unheard of sums at Contemporary Art these days (which strike me as “bets” given the largely unproven nature of the Art itself), here is a case of one of NYC’s “Big 4 Museums” placing an even bigger bet on a Park, that while it certainly is Contemporary Urban Art, hasn’t even been fully opened for TWO YEARS yet,. The Whitney placed their bet when the High Line was in it’s first of 3 phases. Phase 3, the final part, of the now completed High Line opened on September 20, 2014. This is not to mention that they bought in at the top of the market in a real estate market that (like the Art market) hasn’t seen a correction in over 25 years. Both will see corrections one of these days.

But when? This, is the 422 million dollar question.

“Still, tomorrow’s going to be another working day
And I’m trying to get some rest
That’s all I’m trying to get some rest”*

Around the corner on Washington Street, 4 now empty storefronts, one of which was the famous Hogs & Heifers Saloon (corner). August, 2016

Around the corner on Washington Street, 4 now empty storefronts in a row, one of which was the notorious Hogs & Heifers Saloon (where the white sign hangs). August, 2016

Well? If all of this goes south? They still stand a very good chance of being able to move back uptown in 8 years when The Met’s lease of the Breuer, their former home, is up. Given The Met’s own problems, it seems highly unlikely they’ll be extending that lease.

If the Whitney then wants to renovate it? It’ll be someone else’s problem.

*-Soundtrack for this Post is “American Tune” by Paul Simon. Published by Universal Music Publishing Group.

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  1. In fact, the new Whit, itself, sits where one was.
  2. When will they have a show of HER work?
  3. Speaking of his vision in January, Met Director Thomas Campbell told the LA Times that “We are looking at an entrance, at terraces, at the roof garden.” Sounds like he’s visited the New Whitney.