Michelangelo, Rodin, Joseph Cornell & David Hockney: Good Neighbors

In all my years of going to The Met (TM), I can’t ever recall FOUR major or important shows going on at the same time LITERALLY within feet of each other.

Until this moment in one section of The Met’s 2nd Floor.

My cup overfloweth. Part of the southwestern section of The Met’s second floor, Friday evening. To the far left, make a right at the grey wall and you’ve entered the Joseph Cornell & Juan Gris show. David Hockney, straight ahead, Michelangelo, to the right. To the far right, that lady has just emerged from the Rodin show, which starts about 10 feet behind her. Click any image for full size.

While the once in a lifetime “Michelangelo: Divine Draftsman & Designer” is on pace to top 650,000 visitors1, “Rodin At The Met,” “David Hockney” (a retrospective), and the newly opened “Birds of a Feather: Joseph Cornell’s Homage to Juan Gris,” are drawing crowds, too.

At the back of the line in the gallery now occupied by the Joseph Cornell/Juan Gris show on December 29th. That whole, long hallway, seen above, still to go- after I make it to the hallway.

Over the holidays, the line to get in to see the Michelangelo or Hockney shows extended all the way down that long hall in the first Photo, and then all the the way through the gallery where the Cornell/Juan Gris show is now.

I know where they’re going. With one week left to go, it’s too late to beat the crowds. So, um, take a moment and get dressed, first.  The spiffy poster for  “Michelangelo: Divine Draftsman & Designer” seen in the gift shop.

650,000 would put it in the range of the number of visitors who’ve seen The Met’s more popular fashion shows, like “Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty,” and might even place it in their all-time top 10 most visited shows (3 of which I’ve seen). I’ve now made 10 visits to the Michelangelo show, which closes on Feb. 12th, half as many to Hockney, which will be up two weeks longer (to Feb. 25th). Rodin closed today, Feb 4th, as did the excellent “Edvard Munch: Between the Clock and the Bed,” at The Met Breuer. Phew…

Hi, neighbor.

Each show is so dense, with so much to see in every work that what may be missed is the interesting connections between them. You have two of the greatest Sculptors, ever, born 365 years apart, here separated by mere yards. Then, there are two world renown Arists, who both happen to be, or were, gay, born almost 500 years apart separated by a few more yards. I’ll leave those assessments for someone else. I’m more interested in what this adds to the picture of Michelangelo we have at the moment, and the treasure trove of work that’s never been shown here.

At this point, I will be writing about “Michelangelo: Divine Draftsman & Designer,” which took me 6 trips to see in it’s entirety (12 galleries & 17 sections). Since I’m famous, or at least notorious, for writing about shows after they’ve ended, I’m Posting this as fair warning.

Back in December, I told you this was a great time to join The Met!

You’ve got a week left to see something you’ll never see again.

*- Soundtrack for this Post is “I’ll Miss You” by Ween. Because I will.

This Post was created by Kenn Sava for nighthawknyc.com
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  1. which I extrapolated from The Met’s January 22nd press release, which says they reached 500,000 visitors- 7,000 a day, with 22 days remaining.

Up All Night With Frank Lloyd Wright

“Architects may come
Architects may go
and never change your point of view.
When I run dry
I stop awhile
and think of you.”*

Once, back in the day, I came home from work on a Friday evening and put that Simon & Garfunkel song on. Then, I hit the repeat button. “So Long, Frank Lloyd Wright” played all weekend, non-stop, until I had to go to work on Monday. Even while I slept.

Such was my life under the spell of Frank Lloyd Wright.

The mark of genius. Frank Lloyd Wright’s “symbol” (the red square) and his signature on the corner of one of his Drawings. “The color red is invincible. It is the color not only of blood-it is the color of creation. It is the only life-giving color in nature…1” Click any photo for full size.

I guess I hoped that playing this unique song from “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” with it’s unusual marriage of Brazilian rhythm and a string quartet under the ethereal vocals, would lend a different perspective on Wright and his work.

In the years after my father passed, Wright, became an all encompassing figure to me, something I didn’t realize until a German Architect I was dating pointed it out to me. She might have been (W)right. Looking back, though, I think it was the discovery of, and the falling in to, the seemingly bottomless pit of creativity that was Frank Lloyd Wright, and the enigma and charisma of the man, his ideas and his accomplishments (including the countless buildings he designed that were never built, or that were built and since lost). This passion took many forms in my life at the time. Along the way, I learned that the man was a great Artist in other ways beyond Architecture- as a draughtsman and, in my opinion, as a writer. His writings often marry Art & Architecture and philosophy. He was, also, something of a “teacher,” or model, later in his life at his Taliesen Fellowship. His “teaching” seems to have greatly influenced some, and left others unhappy. Beyond all of this work, his personal life? Well…as I’ve said previously about others…is not for me to judge. My interest in is the Art, his creative ideas and the work.

Speaking of teaching & learning…Just outside MoMA’s show, in “The People’s Study,” the public was invited to create and experiment with a range of materials, including blocks, which Wright, himself, created with as a child. Along the windows, they were invited to design their own “Broadacre City,” Wright’s concept for urban/suburban development.

MoMA’s show, “Frank Lloyd Wright at 150: Unpacking the Archive” is a major event, honoring two major events.  First, it opened on June 12th, four days after Frank Lloyd Wright’s 150th Birthday. Second, it marks the joint acquisition by MoMA and the Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library of Columbia University of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Archives. It’s a fascinating show, though, of course, it’s a mere sliver of the massive Archive that will keep scholars busy for decades Some of the early fruits of their labors were on view, particularly in short videos on display in each gallery where curators spoke of some of the highlights they’ve found so far. Parts of Wright’s Archives have been known to me through earlier shows at MoMA and the Guggenheim, and through books, most notably “In His Renderings,” the final volume of  the landmark 12 volume box set published by A.D.A Edita Tokyo in 1984, right in the middle of my Wright obsession2. The 200 drawings “In His Renderings” included made the case for Wright’s drawings being works of Art in themselves, and a good many of them are in MoMA’s show, which totals about 450 items. Indeed, they are right at home on the walls of the great museum.

The show is made up of galleries devoted to individual projects and galleries devoted to aspects of his work. Of course, given his career lasted over 60 years, only selected Wright projects are here and they range from key buildings, like the “Imperial Hotel,” 1923, to some much less well known, like his design for the “Rosenwald School” “for Negro Children,” 1928, as it was labelled, as well as galleries devoted to Wright’s Ornamentation (an almost completely lost art in today’s Architecture), Urban projects, the role of landscaping in his projects, and built, and (mostly) unbuilt projects for NYC. There is also a gallery showing 2 rare videos of Frank Lloyd Wright- one an infamous interview with Mike Wallace in 1957, the other an appearance on the game show, “What’s My Line.” The long central, first gallery includes a range of Drawings, many masterpieces- both as Architecture and as Artworks, from a wide range of periods of Wright’s career, including the “Winslow House,” 1893, “Unity Temple,” 1908, “Fallingwater,”1935, and the “Marin County Civic Center,” which opened in 1962.

Frank Lloyd Wright seen at the end of the first gallery as he’s interviewed by Mike Wallace in 1957, at age 90. Still sharp as a tack.

When Wright burst on the scene, after leaving his employer & mentor, the great Louis Sullivan3, the “Father of the Skyscraper,” (who he held in such high esteem, he referred to him as “Lieber Meister,” German for “Dear Master”), and began his own practice, there was no such thing as a truly “American” style of Architecture.

Louis Sullivan’s “Bayard-Condict Building,” 1898, on Bleecker & Crosby Streets, his only NYC building, was one of the first steel skeleton skyscrapers in NYC. As the columns between the windows rise, they lead to the parapet decorated with angels.

Even half-hidden by scaffolding the genius of Louis Sullivan’s ornament is impossible to miss, here on the entrance.

While Henry Hobson Richardson and Sullivan (both a bit under appreciated today), had taken steps towards creating an American style, Wright completed it with the introduction of his Prairie Style in the first decade of the 20th Century, like the “Unity Temple,” 1908, in Oak Park, IL, below.

Rendering of “Unity Temple,” Oak Park, IL, 1908, which still stands, an example of his “Prairie Style,” with it’s low, land-hugging profile. Wright, who’s church was “Nature,” went on to design churches for many religions.

Off the central gallery, the first side gallery is devoted to Wright’s “Imperial Hotel,” Tokyo. Incredibly, it was dedicated on September 1, 1923, the very day of the devastating Great Kanto Earthquake that killed 100,000 people and leveled almost every other structure in Tokyo, except for Wright’s Masterpiece, which he had designed to withstand such an event. Instant world-wide fame followed. The genius in it’s floating concrete foundation below was also abundant in the superhuman amount of creativity above it.

“Imperial Hotel,” 1923, cross section.

Wright designed the furniture, the windows, the lamps, the dishes- all of it. He created a massive building that was one unified composition from top to bottom, down to the smallest detail. I couldn’t get over it. Yet, the “Imperial Hotel,” was far from the only building he did this for. No other Wright structure has captured my fascination, and awe, more than the “Imperial Hotel” (which is saying something), perhaps because, though it was gigantic, so little of it remains- even in photographs, film or books (An amazing online collection of photos and relics of the “Imperial Hotel” I’ve seen is to be found here.). What is left teases the viewer to imagine the rest. I’ve tried to imagine walking around in it…what that must have looked like and felt like. It withstood what Nature (Wright capitalized it, since he said it was his “religion,” my inspiration for capitalizing “Art,” “Music,” “Painting,”etc.) threw at it, and World War II, but it couldn’t withstand the rising value of Tokyo real estate leading to it’s tragic demolition in 1958 after standing for a mere 45 years! The facade was saved and reconstructed at Japan’s Meiji Mura Outdoor Architectural Museum, a few pieces of furniture are in The Met (which also has one of the Urns that was out in front of the entrance), and other items are in collections elsewhere.

Frank Lloyd Wright’s First Symphony. The “Imperial Hotel,” Tokyo. Imagine designing this, AND all the furniture, dishes, windows, lamps, and on an on. For my money, one of mankind’s supreme creative achievements. It’s so large it extends off the frame from across the street. Part of the entrance is barely visible to the right, center.

Fragments of the “Imperial Hotel.”  The two side chairs are on loan from The Met. The dishes are reproductions.

Wright’s other huge early masterpiece was Chicago’s “Midway Gardens,” 1914, an indoor/outdoor entertainment complex in the Hyde Park section. Again, Wright designed all of it, and once again, almost nothing remains. Either one of these two buildings would have been enough to secure his name, and his legend. “Midway Gardens” stood for FIFTEEN years. The loss of both is a cultural tragedy that will echo on through centuries to come.

Like a vision of the past through a misty glass. Rendering of “Midway Gardens,” 1913, Chicago. Another early lost masterpiece.

Represented in MoMA’s show by this “Block for Midway Gardens,” 1914. Remnants of it are extremely rare. Photos of, and more about “Midway Gardens” can be found here. (Scroll down.)

Gone forever was the chance for young Artists & Architects to experience and be directly influenced by them the way you only can from seeing Architecture, or Art, in person. Wright’s buildings require your presence in their space to fully appreciate them. He was fond of low corridors giving way to large open spaces, and this is just one of the experiences you can’t get from a book. Speaking of books, after one of my visits, I wandered into MoMA’s bookstore. A young couple next to me picked up a book on Wright and one said, “What did he build? Oh! He did the Guggenheim.” I thought everyone knew who Frank Lloyd Wright was. I don’t know if they went up to see the show or not, but I decided then and there to write this Post.

After these early masterpieces, Wright’s style evolved from the Prairie style, through the Mayan and Japanese influence seen in the “Imperial Hotel” and a number of houses he designed at the time, to his “Usonian”style of the mid-1930’s, to buildings beyond style, like the “Johnson Wax Headquarters,” “Fallingwater,” and eventually, The “Guggenheim Museum.” They would all fall under the umbrella of “Organic Architecture.” The “Usonian” houses began around 1936, and have a style which brings these houses even closer to the land than the “Prairie Style” houses, being almost universally a single storey, while featuring simpler materials, which, Wright believed, would make them more affordable. Though more “popularly priced”, he still designed all the furniture for them as well, and the chair I once owned came from a “Usonain” house. These “Usonian” houses, along with his “Broadacre City,” were part of his vision for urban and suburban landscape design, called “Usonia,” as in “U.S.-onia.”

Rendering of the “Johnson Wax Headquarters,” 1936. It’s innovations are everywhere from the dendriform columns in the great workspace that rise from 9 inch bases to 15 foot “lily-pad” tops (see below), to the design of the furniture to expedite cleaning, to the use of glass tubes to block out the “urban blight” outside while creating a soft light inside. A sideshow of Photos of this incredibly beautiful building are here.

No one believed Wright’s slender columns for the Johnson Wax HQ could support enough weight to be practical. So, he staged this demonstration and piled 60 TONS on top of one! Photographer unknown. 81 years later? They’re still standing tall.

The later masterpieces while unique to themselves, still remain true to Wright’s core beliefs. Herbert F. Johnson, president of the S.C. Johnson Company hired Wright to build his company’s corporate headquarters in 1936 in Racine, Wisconsin. The resulting landmark, above, is a sheer wonder- a cathedral of capitalism. Though they encountered some problems, Mr. Johnson was so pleased with Wright that he contracted him to build a research tower on the property and then to design a large house for himself, known as “Wingspread.”

Within the year, he, also, created what may be the most famous private house ever built. “Fallingwater,” for Edgar J. Kaufmann, owner of Kaufmann’s department store.

Rendering of “Fallingwater,” 1935. Legend has it that Wright had put nothing on paper though his client, Edgar Kaufman, was on his way from the airport to see the design of his house. Wright had it all in his head and put it down on paper in time for Mr. Kaufman’s arrival. This is probably not that Drawing.

Perhaps nowhere in Art is there greater harmony of Art & Nature than there is in “Fallingwater,” which may make it Wright’s ultimate expression of his “Organic Architecture.” In it, the Artist strives to achieve the ultimate- create something worthy of a spectacular natural site, a work that seems to grow out of it, and be integral to it. Mr. Kaufmann was expecting the house to be sited across from the waterfall so he could enjoy looking at it. Instead, Wright put the house directly on top of it, centering the living room on a rock the family liked to picnic on.

As a result of all of this, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that later in his career he spoke defiantly about the Architects of the new “International Style,” with their bland, impersonal boxes of steel and glass, that are about as far from “Nature” as anything could be. Here in NYC, as in many other places, a casual look around reveals they’re already dated, and many (most? All?) are plain eyesores. One thing MoMA’s show reinforces is that Wright’s work has a way of not going out of fashion. Perhaps it’s because it’s so tightly integrated with it’s surroundings- with nature. It also helps that most of what he built and remains is out in nature, i.e. not in a City. Then again, perhaps it’s because his endless, unique, creativity serves to constantly inspire. Like the song says. For myself, my now long-standing passion for the work of Frank Lloyd Wright leaves me wondering if he is not the greatest Architect who ever lived. I’m lucky. I don’t believe in qualitatively comparing Art or Artists. But if I did? That’s one statement I might actually make. Now, I’m content wondering.

“The tree that escaped the forest.” Like a tree, it looks different from every angle. Originally designed for Astor Place in Manhattan, after it was rejected, it was redesigned and became the only “skyscraper” Wright built during his lifetime, the “Price Tower” in, you guessed it- Bartlesville, Oklahoma.

Speaking of “not being in the City,” though Wright has only one building in NYC, that’s not because he didn’t try. Though he loathed cities, particularly this one, he did. He designed many structures that he wanted to have built here but he was shot down by the powers that be every single time4! Only when he had a client powerful enough to push through his project did the Guggenheim get built. MoMA’s show serves as a reminder of this nightmare as it shows us some of the projects he envisioned for the City, along with an in-depth look at the Guggenheim’s coming to be. It, therefore, serves to remind us that the travails of that other brilliant Architect named “Frank,”…Gehry, has had getting projects built here are nothing new. To date. Mr. Gehry, who has tried to get countless plans built that would have transformed the City, to date has only two. Between Wright & Gehry? Ohhhh…the City we should have had.

Rendering of the “New York Sports Pavilion,” for Belmont Park, 1956 , another of the countless structures Wright designed for Manhattan that were never built.

As his only NYC building, the Guggenheim Museum it is still able to inspire with it’s incredibly bold vision almost 60 years on. It echoes the trees across 5th Avenue in Central Park as a way of bringing a hint of Nature across the street into the City. But, lesser known is the building as we see it now went through quite a metamorphosis on the way. Take a look at this-

The Guggenheim Museum underwent extensive design modifications between this model and the finished building. Looking at it from the 5th Avenue side, very little is the same besides the ramp/rotunda (though here it’s located on the East 89th Street corner, instead of the East 88th Street corner, to the right, as it was built), and the lower overhanging floor. Everything else is different.

This detail fascinates me. It shows Wright’s rarely seen original design for the roof, most notably the skylight over the famous rotunda. The variously sized circles make much more sense to the overall composition than the grid that’s up there now, since so much of the composition involves circles (right down to circles being etched on the sidewalk out front). Of course, the Guggenheim chose to ignore all of this when they put a square building behind it. I wonder why this design was not used. Nor were the surrounding small domes.

The rotunda is now on the right in this rendering, done to demonstrate how it would look in pink. Yes…pink! Still, along with the final color, so much about the building remained to be finalized even here.

The Guggenheim didn’t follow through on all of Wright’s ideas when completing the building (which may, or may not explain the current skylight). So, perhaps, it shouldn’t be a surprise when the Guggenheim was altered in the early 1990’s, terribly in my opinion. I was actively involved in trying to prevent it, and the modification of the Breuer Whitney Museum (now, unmodified, it’s The Met Breuer). To that end, in June, 1987, my letter was published in the New York Times-

My letter in the NY Times Op-Ed page opposing the & Guggenheim & Whitney modifications, June, 1987. I love the very fitting drawing they added.

“So long, Frank Lloyd Wright.
All of the nights we’d harmonize till dawn.
I never laughed so long.
So long.”*

Today, are there ANY Architects who are also designing the dishes, rugs, windows, lamps & furniture for their buildings on a regular basis? Having owned an original Frank Lloyd Wright chair I can attest to both the ingenuity of the design (though “impractical” most people who saw it said, it’s 3 legs required you to sit with both feet on the floor, or fall off. Wright teaching proper posture), and to the fact that it was in itself a miniature work of Architecture. When I thought of Wright, I thought of Brahms, Mahler or Anton Bruckner (all of whom were alive during Wright’s lifetime) or his beloved Bach & Beethoven. Wright was building symphonies in the physical world. The extraordinary attention to detail in his work- down to even designing the napkin rings at “Midway Gardens,” is something akin to the musical structure of any of those Composer’s compositions, where every note plays a role in the whole. Wright creates a unified physical structure that is hard to find in any other Architect’s work- before or after. Music was the only analogy I could think of for what he had done. At least for me. I think he may have agreed- music was always central to him, particularly chamber music, which he would have weekly performances of at his Taliesin homes. It was hard for me to understand my fascination & obsession with all things Frank Lloyd Wright until I realized what he was doing was creating buildings the way Bach, Mahler or Bruckner created “edifices in sound.” Wright loved music and the connection is something that needs closer study.

Like Picasso, or Miles Davis, he was not one to stay in the same place for long. They are the only two other 20th Century Masters who had multiple unique “periods.” Wright’s style continually evolved, but it were always true to his principles- using nature as the supreme guide, building in harmony with the site, and building “organically.”

Approaching age 90, Wright unveiled one of his most daring ideas yet- “The Illinois,” perhaps better known as the “Mile High Skyscraper,” because that’s what it was- a mile tall. A number of Drawings related to it were on view at MoMA, five about 8 feet high each.

8 foot tall rendering of “The Illinois,” 1956. Wright’s “Mile High Skyscraper.” Designed to be made of concrete, some doubt it’s feasibility. It would have been FOUR times the height of the Empire State Building!

Interestingly, in one Drawing, the “Mile High” shares the sheet with extensive text. The curator’s video in the gallery says this drawing is his second “Autobiography,” to the book of that title. On it, Wright pays tribute to his influences, and proceeds to list some of his accomplishments. As a result, it’s perhaps the most fascinating drawing in the show. It’s something of a testament. It’s hard for me to look at the “Burj Khalifa” in Dubai and not think it’s Architect, Adrian Smith of S.O.M., owes a serious debt to “The Illinois.” It’s “only” 2,722 feet tall, though, half of the proposed height of “The Illinois.”

Wright’s “salutations,” list of accomplishments, and building stats on the top half of another 8 foot tall drawing of the “Mile High.”

One striking thing about Frank Lloyd Wright is that at the time of his death on April 9, 1959, Frank Lloyd Wright was exactly half as old as his country. (He was 91, the country was 182 years old.) Remarkable. When Wright started in Architecture, working for Joseph Silsbee in 1872, he did so in a Chicago that was still digging out from the Great Fire the previous year. There were no skyscrapers until his “Lieber Meister” Sullivan began to create them 20 years later. When he passed away in 1959, one of his final masterpieces, the Guggenheim Museum was about to open. Much had changed in the 87 years between. But, given that he stayed true to his core belief in “Organic Architecture,” (“building as nature builds,” he said), I’m not sure that Wright changed all that much as much as he evolved. As a result, in the final analysis, he showed us that his idea was infinitely pliable, and that creativity and imagination had a central role in it, something that seemed to go out of Architecture, increasingly, during that same period. While some of his greatest works are gone, his Archives contain an enormous wealth of materials that can bear witness to them, and the thousand or so projects he undertook (about 400 or so still stand). It was a lot for one life- even one that lasted 91 years.

Frank Lloyd Wright during the “Mike Wallace Interview,” 1957, near the age of 90, two years before he passed away.

“So long, Frank Lloyd Wright.
I can’t believe your song is gone so soon
I barely learned the tune
So soon, so soon”*

As I left this show, filled with that same, familiar, head-shaking amazement, I was reminded of a quote of Wright’s- “The scientist has marched in and taken the place of the poet. But one day somebody will find the solution to the problems of the world and remember, it will be a poet, not a scientist5.” Whether the world will listen to the next poet is a question that remains to be answered. In the meantime, with regard to this poet, there is much still to learn.

“Frank Lloyd Wright at 150: Unpacking the Archive” is my NoteWorthy Show for September.

*- Soundtrack for this Post is “So Long, Frank Lloyd Wright,” by Paul Simon, which is, also, something of his farewell to Art Garfunkel as Garfunkel was about to leave to go to Mexico to shoot “Catch 22,” which marked the end of Simon & Garfunkel. Garfunkel majored in Architecture at Columbia, admired Wright, and suggested to Simon that he write a song about the Architect. Published by Universal Music Publishing Group.

On The Fence, #14,” the Stair way to Heaven Edition.

This Post was created by Kenn Sava for nighthawknyc.com
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  1. Kliment Timiriazev
  2. Eight of the other eleven volumes are monographs dedicated to period of Wright’s career, the remaining 3 volumes contain preliminary studies, which I assume are part of his Archives. These books were the only way most of us could see these pieces of the Archives, except for occasional shows, until now.
  3. Controversy still surrounds whether he left or was fired by Sullivan for taking freelance commissions on the side.
  4. To read this very sorry tale, in detail, I highly recommend the book “Man About Town,” by Herbert Muschamp, who details Wright’s plans for Manhattan and efforts to overcome the powers that be. i.e Robert Moses.
  5.  As quoted in “The Star,” 1959, and “Morrow’s International Dictionary of Contemporary Quotations,” 1982, by Jonathon Green.

Cancer Saved My Life

I grew up in a pre-determined life.

An empty lot? No, this is the box I grew up in. Click any image for full size.

I existed to follow in my father’s footsteps. The problem was that I had absolutely no inclination, or desire to do so.  Right through high school graduation there was never one iota of thought or discussion given to thinking “he might want his own life” by my family. After I escaped, by going on the road with a band, my family actively worked against my efforts trying to force me to come back to their plan. I disowned them in 2005. Lots of lonely holiday seasons have followed. By then, the die had been cast. I wound up knee deep in a career I never wanted to be in just to survive.

I know how he feels.

Finally, I dug myself out and got back to having a career in music, which went very well, until I got fed up with the record business (back when there was a record business), but that’s a story unto itself. Then, in 2007, I was diagnosed with cancer. I got the news, the results of my biopsy done the previous week, over the phone while I was sitting in my office.

“How was your weekend?,” the doctor asked quite casually. “Good,” I said. “That’s the good news. The bad news is that you have cancer,” were his exact words.

Time stopped. The clock read a little after noon as I recall.

I could see the blurred shapes of my coworkers walking in front of the glass walls of my office who’s door was closed, but, after those words, that room symbolized how I felt. It felt like I was in this box surrounded by immediate circumstances- this diagnosis and my job. It felt like a room I’d never been in before. The world was going on outside of it, beyond the glass walls. I could see out the window across the hallway and see sunlight coming down the narrow street, shining on the windows on the other side, a few hundred feet distant.

I was in a different world now.

Life was closing in on me, putting me in a box. No stranger to spending a lot of time alone, I was now in a  world inside myself, more fully than I had ever been before.

After giving me my diagnosis on the phone, he said you really should come in to talk. “Yeah. I guess so,” I remembered saying. I was barely listening at this point. Disbelief is the first thing that hits you.

A few days later I went to meet with him, he sat down, and said to me “I had to show your slides to my colleagues. We’ve never this before.”


What could possibly be worse? To get a diagnosis with cancer, THEN the doctor tells you “we’ve never seen this before.”


Apparently all 15 of my biopsy cores came back with cancer. I asked “Are you sure those are my slides?” He said yes, and I don’t remember anything of the meeting after that. It was like a window shade rolled down over my mind after that, like it had been glazed over. I walked out of the hospital, in a daze and crossed insanely busy Park Avenue (which runs both ways) a few hundred feet north of 14th Street in the middle of the day without even looking to see if traffic was coming! Somehow I made it across to Union Square. To this day I have no idea how I got there. I walked back to work at 2 PM. My boss, Rob, who would become a good friend, and the only one I had told at work, came in and sat in my office, he looked at me and asked me if I was OK. I don’t remember responding, just sitting there in that space deep inside of myself still in shock.

Cancer? And? It’s bad?

I’ve never really been sick a day in my life. I’ve never had surgery. I’ve never spent the night in a hospital. There was no cancer in my family. I broke a bone in my hand once, I messed up my knee a little bit, I destroyed the hearing in my left ear playing in the band, and I destroyed my feet wearing rock ‘n’ roll shoes onstage made by the guys who made Kiss’ famous boots. That’s been the extent of my health issues in my life. To be diagnosed with cancer, and have to work your way through the biology, the medicine, the treatment options, the incredibly incomprehensible technology, and try to figure out, alone, what is the best treatment for you, is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.

Shock was the first stage for me, and it was quite a while before I got over it. Looking back now, it was years before I got over the shock that yes, I have cancer. Growing up, cancer was a death sentence. One thing I learned that even then, in 2007, most people I eventually told, treated me like I was going to die.

I was alone as I’ve ever been. Why is there even a light on?

Given all my responsibility at work, I didn’t say a word to anyone else there about any of this. A few days later my boss, Rob, came in and announced he was leaving. ! What? Are you serious? He got a better offer. The owner of the company, who still didn’t know, wound up giving me his job. He was the CFO of the 3 corporations with offices in 3 states! He was making $150,000 more than I was making. I was the Controller, but I wasn’t a CPA, which he was. And? I didn’t get a raise.

I had to deal with researching treatment options, not to mention the strain of being newly diagnosed with cancer, while learning his job, at the end of the year with a financial closing period looming for three corporations. I don’t know how I got through all of that. I had two full-time jobs.

Well? At least I didn’t have to worry about “celebrating” the holidays!

I did my due diligence, learned as much as I could, got four opinions, and then decided on the treatment. And then? Every cancer patient’s worst nightmare happened. I picked the WRONG treatment. I chose to have hormone therapy followed by two types of radiation treatment. That’s 3 treatments. Why? Because I just didn’t want to have surgery. People die during surgery.

So, at peace with my choice, that I had avoided surgery, I went back to the hospital to begin my treatment. The doctor who had diagnosed me sat nearby holding the needle with the hormones in it about 2 inches from my left arm. He said, “You know you’re not going to have any libido for twice as long as you’re going to be on this, right?” The treatment was scheduled to take 2 years. So? That was four years. “Um, what? No. I didn’t know that.” I had asked the question during the original meeting, but didn’t ask the right follow up question. Uggh!

I stopped him. He, basically, saved my life right there.

I went home devastated. After all of this, all of these opinions, all of this research I had made a mistake!

The writing on the wall SCREAMING at me. These letter are about as big as the mistake I made.

This treatment plan was chosen for the WRONG reason- basically, for my comfort. Since it wasn’t surgery, it was in my comfort zone. Ok. So? Now what, Kenn? The cancer is still here.

I had no choice but to start over. Square one.

Going to back to the beginning, I had to face that the most basic fact was the one I wasn’t focused on COMPLETELY. And that is-

Cancer was trying to kill me. This was WAR.

I then asked myself a hard, fundamental and essential question- What do you want to accomplish through treatment? There was only one answer. Get ALL the cancer out of my body as quickly as possible, via the means with the longest track record of proven results. By that I mean long term survival rates free of cancer.

A woman reached out to me online to tell me about her husband’s story. He had been treated and it hadn’t gone well. He had bad side effects after, and both of their lives were now negatively impacted, every day, by them. Then, she said, “If I had to do it over again, I’d insist he go to Dr. Samadi.” Who? He’s a surgeon. Since my treatment choice had turned out to be WRONG, I decided to consider surgery even though, yes, “people die during surgery.”

Umm..? People die from cancer, too, Kenn! MANY more people.

You want your best chance of getting cancer out of your body and possibly beating this horrible disease? Surgery was my best choice. (Mine. Every diagnosis is different. I am not a doctor and I am certainly not giving medical advice here. What worked for me may not for someone else. There are side effects from any treatment, and they are just one factor that needs to be carefully considered.) I was still young enough that if surgery didn’t work I could have radiation treatment(s) after. In my case, I couldn’t do it the other way around. I posted on a cancer support website asking who other patients thought was the best surgeon in NYC. About 20 people responded in 24 hours. Dr. Samadi got 3 votes. No one else got more than 1. The next day Dr. Samadi, himself, contacted me through the website.

“Hello. With your diagnosis, I can treat you and your prognosis will be excellent.”

Huh? What “good” doctor is on the internet looking for patients?

I didn’t respond. My bias against using the internet for this returned. What was I thinking looking for a cancer doctor ONLINE? The road to help, and an answer, felt endless…cold, lonely. It was November, outside and the dead of winter in my soul.

Life lies dormant on The HighLine in February. The path stretches far out ahead into the cold night…

About this time my friend, Fluffy, told me to try Columbia Presbyterian. President Clinton had been treated there. So? Being as Dr. Samadi was there, and with these other recommendations, I decided to call his office.

No one returned my call. ?

I decided to finally write back to him and tell him I tried. He said, “I’m leaving on a trip tomorrow at 1:30pm. Just come to my office and I will get you in.” Without an appointment? Again, irregular. But? Ok. I did. He did. Opinion #5.

I was impressed with every thing about him. He told me he could give me a triple golden outcome (i.e. be free of cancer with no serious side effects). An expert in the (then) new robotic surgery, he also had had state of the art training, and experience, in the two other, time tested types of surgery. Should the robot somehow fail, he could switch to one of them without missing a beat and complete the operation. No other doctor I knew of in NYC could do that. He had treated many patients successfully (I would speak to some). He seemed to have every base covered. The robotic surgery seemed to promise minimal incisions leading to a quicker recovery. I left feeling I didn’t want anyone else to touch me. I realized later that that feeling of ultimate confidence is something you MUST have in a doctor you choose to treat you! I decided then and there to make an appointment to have Dr. Samadi operate on me. I had done a 360 on surgery. Let’s go! It was the third week of November. The earliest appointment was in March!

What? Let me get this straight-

He’s booked FOUR MONTHS in advance AND still took time to offer his help (to me) online? Wow. Now? I was in awe. It felt like a hand had come out of the sky and plucked me out of the worst nightmare of my life. “Just get on the schedule and I will move you up,” he said, as my condition required quicker treatment.

He operated on me on February 7, 2007. 10 years ago today.

4 hours later, my eyes partially opened. The bottom half of my closed eyes revealed light. I slowly opened them more. There were trees, branches and sunlight. Where was I? It was early February. This wasn’t winter. This was spring. Around this narrow opening of light, it was all darkness. Just a narrow rectangle of light in the lower center.  It didn’t look like the famous “tunnel” near death experience survivors speak about. But, there was a center section of light surrounded by blackness.

Passing this doorway this week uncannily reminded me of “waking up” that day.

I laid there for over an hour and a half before anyone came over. I was in the recovery room. At least that’s where I was told I was. The light was from an open window about 100 feet across from me. I wasn’t sure I was alive.

To this day? Part of me feels like I died on that operating table on February 7, 2007.

In many ways, my life did end that day. As I realized that, I started thinking of my “new life” as having begun that day, too.

So, today? I’m 10 years old.

The part of my life that DID die from cancer? Ok…

I had no wife, no girlfriend, no family, no kids, no one I could see on a daily basis, there was almost no love in my life. Most of my friends took off after I got sick. The girl I had been seeing did me three days before my surgery, then I didn’t hear from her for four months. Until she sent me a card. A card? You live two blocks away from me. You’re the closest person I know in the whole world to where I live. I’m getting through my recovery alone, in a 4th floor walkup, with no one to help me. And, you send me a card?

She wasn’t the only one.

My “best friend” of seven years pulled up shop in New York and decided to move home to Indianapolis, Indiana. She went to see a friend of mine at a bar the night of my surgery when I was lying unconscious in the hospital. She told him she was leaving in the morning. He asked her, “Are you going to say goodbye to Kenn?” She said “Yes.” She never did. She left town and never even said goodbye to me. I was hoping and expecting she would help me over the next couple of weeks.

One of the first things cancer taught me was it made me realize that the two or three friends I had left were my real Friends (cap, mine, as I am wont to do in this Blog). Forget the online nonsense of what people call “friends.” How dare they use that word! I KNOW what a “friend” is. I learned the hard way. When push comes to shove, When the sh*t hits the fan, and all bets are off, like the soldiers talk about “in their foxholes,” you’re lucky if you have two or three people by your side. That was the first major lesson I learned then, and one reason I have nothing to do with so-called social media. It’s a total waste of time. All you’re doing is giving your personal information away FOR FREE to big corporations to use to sell stuff to you, or for other purposes that no one knows. If someone walked up to you on the street and said, “Hi. Tell me this, this, this, this, and this about yourself,” you’d think they were nuts, dangerous or criminals. Yet? Online, in front of the entire world, billions of people do it every minute of every day, without wondering about it. This is something I will never understand.

The doctor who diagnosed me told me I had a 20% chance of making it through year 1 after treatment without needing additional treatment. Today, I celebrate TEN YEARS without addtional treatment!

But? Early on? I was sure I was a goner. That 20% quickly flipped in focus to 80% against.

I decided to sell everything I owned and make preparations for “the end.” I lived like I was going to die. My assistant at work forced me out of my job while I was laid up in bed, so I left my job of 10 years, and the career I never wanted, to focus on my recovery. After I did, I took stock of my life.

Almost everyone was gone. My career was gone. My former boss, now friend, Rob used to ask me, “What are you doing in this job? You’re a creative guy.” It hit me pretty hard. I didn’t have an answer for him, until life handed me the answer. My cancer was gone (at least until my next test). What am I going to do now?

I decided to take care of myself. Complete my recovery, and live being myself- 24/7. Crazy, right? Who does that? 10 years later, I haven’t looked back. (Yet.) It’s pretty scary, though. I can’t say I don’t worry about the future. Then again? Who doesn’t?

Yes. There’s someone in that box, outside a “Home Parts” place.

So? Yes, a fair amount of the life I knew did die on February 7, 2007.

The second big thing cancer taught me was what REALLY MATTERS in life.

Are you ready?

I realized that ALL that matters in life is Loving and being Loved.

Read that again. I’ll wait.

That’s all. Period. End of sentence. Goodnight! Get home safely.

But, having no love in my life? Being a “get it done” kind of guy. I decided I could “get it done” and find love. I spent most of the next 5 years looking for love- E V E R Y W H E R E. What I re-learned was that “finding love” is impossible. Love isn’t something you can “find.” It just happens. Or? It just doesn’t happen.


I had an unforgettable moment on that corner, before things blew up horribly.

Of course, I didn’t find it. I thought I found it once, but it blew up, horribly, in my face and I came as close as I ever have to doing harm to myself. Yes, to actually doing away with myself. Cancer hadn’t killed me yet, but “love”/the loss of said “love” almost did. But? I survived that, too.

Finally? I decided to love myself. It was all I had left.

“The words of the prophet are written on the subway wall,” Paul Simon once sang. Or? A block away.

Besides? If you don’t love yourself, who will?

Beyond this, being thankful & grateful is absolutely essential. Of course I’ve been very lucky, and have so very much to be thankful for. I have been trying to practice mindful giving thanks from moment to moment. Having cancer, also, puts you in touch with the cancer community. I heard a lot of stories. Many terrible. Many inspiring. It’s miraculous, to me, that anyone survives cancer, given how it was when I was growing up. I’ve watched some dear people die from it. I’ve talked to quite a few people who didn’t have good outcomes- either from complications from their treatment, or from cancer returning and spreading. The cancer community is, also a wonder. Survivors like the author Musa Mayer, (who is “also” the great Philip Guston‘s daughter) have forged new paths in cancer advocacy and given hope and support to countless others in ways that didn’t exist when I was diagnosed.

I was privileged to be in the presence of Musa Mayer a few weeks ago as she spoke about her father’s work in the Nixon Drawings show @ Hauser & Wirth.

Beyond them, to say I’m grateful to the doctors who treated me and saved me 10 years ago is a huge understatement. Recently, I had the honor to meet another one who’s on the front lines right now, Dr. Melissa Pilewskie at Sloan Kettering Memorial Cancer Center. Listening to her, I couldn’t help but marvel at her inner strength, and those of my doctors. She told me that as a surgeon she has treated 2,000 patients in 5 years. That’s 400 a year. There’s only 365 days in a year! Ok, Dr. Pilewskie is obviously a world-class doctor, with an extraordinarily rare skill set. I couldn’t help but wonder…where does this young lady get the inner strength to deal with cancer patients all day every day? Let alone to deal with them so well. It was a humbling experience that reminded me of the debt I owe the doctors who treated me. On my 10 year anniversary, it was also an insight into how far cancer treatment has come in my lifetime, and continues to progress, and a reminder of how many very special people are in there fighting tooth and nail to treat, beat, and even cure cancer. This isn’t a “job” to them. It’s their mission.

THANK YOU! And, bless you all.

If you get diagnosed with cancer (PLEASE, no!), you now have a great chance of being treated, and then get to go on with your life. My advice to you is- Get the best doctor your insurance will cover and get treated. Go for your follow up tests, religiously. For everyone else who doesn’t have cancer? Catching cancer early really is your best chance to beat it. Don’t miss those checkups! That’s how mine was discovered.

The big reveal from my experience with cancer is that cancer wound up forcing me to have the life I always wanted to have.


No one lives forever. I was living my life like I was going to live to be 200, and everything I REALLY wanted to do, I would get to one day. Well? One day is N O W. That’s why I have this blog. That’s why I spend my life going to see Art 6 days a week, taking photos and listening to music. I can’t wait for “one day” anymore. Damn the expense (which goes up every minute)! Damn the later impact on my life (he says now)!

Life on the edge.  Yes, someone is sleeping in the doorway of this gallery. Maybe they’re trying to be first in line.

If I don’t do this NOW? WHEN am I going to do it? I don’t know if any of this would’ve happened if I didn’t get cancer.

After I started to recover, I had some of those plastic bracelets made for my last Blog before this one. I was writing about my daily experiences with cancer, in an effort to give others who were newly diagnosed some information through sharing my experiences, because at the time no one else was doing it. On them, I had three phrases engraved. One was

Get tested

The second was

Get treated

And finally-


They were there as a reminder to myself, a mantra, as much as what I’d learned.

Close, and seeing this this week was a coincidence, and a reminder.

Early on my friend and cancer survivor, Stephanie 2, told me that cancer “would change my life in ways I could not imagine.” She was right. My experience with cancer challenged me in more ways than any other. In the end? It challenged me to face myself. To love myself and to be myself, fully, no matter what.

I’m not grateful for cancer. I HATE cancer. It’s taken the lives of friends, acquaintances, and many I’ve admired from afar. It’s cost me parts of my body I didn’t really want to lose.

In the end, I’m more grateful for life (than what it cost me to have it). For the chance to change the course of my life, and finally live the life I always wanted to have.

Ok, so cancer didn’t really “save my life.” Doctors Chuey, Dinlenc and Samadi did. I used cancer as a wake up call to save myself after they did.


Life, in February. The High Line, February, 2017.

I hope you’ll join me in celebrating my 10th Birthday.

If I’m actually still alive.


With my undying thanks to those who saved me-

-Dr. David Samadi

-Dr. Caner Dinlenc

-Dr. John Chuey

-Helen Petrocelli, RN

-The staff of Columbia Presbyterian Hospital

To those who stood by me-



And, with my thanks, and admiration to fellow cancer survivors, patients, and a professional-

-Stephanie 2

-Dave (R.I.P)


-Mrs. kitty

-Mrs. Fluffy

-Musa Mayer



-Dr. Melissa Pilewskie

I took all the photos appearing in this Post over the first six days of February, 2017, except the photo of Musa Mayer, on January 10, 2017.

*- The Soundtrack for this Post is “Accept Yourself,” by The Smiths (who you can watch perform it in 1983!, below), written by Morrissey & Johnny Marr. Morrissey was 23, or 24 when he wrote this. Astounding. It’s Lyrics, published by Warner/Chappell Music and Universal Music Publishing, just fit-

“Every day you must say
So, how do I feel about my life?
Anything is hard to find
When you will not open your eyes
When will you accept yourself?
I am sick and I am dull
And I am plain
How dearly I’d love to get carried away
Oh, but dreams have a knack of just not coming true
And time is against me now…oh
Oh, who and what to blame?
Oh, anything is hard to find
When you will not open your eyes
When will you accept yourself, for heaven’s sake?
Anything is hard to find
When you will not open your eyes
Every day you must say
Oh, how do I feel about the past?
Others conquered love – but I ran
I sat in my room and I drew up a plan
Oh, but plans can fall through (as so often they do)
And time is against me now…

And there’s no-one left to blame
Oh, tell me when will you…
When will you accept your life?
(The one that you hate)
For anything is hard to find
When you will not open your eyes
Every day you must say
Oh, how do I feel about my shoes?
They make me awkward and plain
How dearly I would love to kick with the fray…
But I once had a dream (and it never came true)
And time is against me now…
Time is against me now…
And there’s no one but yourself to blame
Oh, anything is hard to find
When you will not open your eyes
Anything is hard to find; for heaven’s sake !
Anything is hard to find
When you will not open your eyes
When will you accept yourself ?

Please send comments, thoughts, feedback or propositions to denizen at nighthawknyc.com.
Click the white box on the upper right, for the archives, to search, or to subscribe.
This Post was created by Kenn Sava for www.nighthawknyc.com

If You Ever Missed A Show At Moma? You’ve Just Been Reborn!


“If I had my life to live over
I’d do the same things again
I’d still want to roam
Near the place we called home
Where my happiness would never end”*

This, today, from MoMA-


Installation Photographs, Archival Documents, and Catalogues of Exhibitions Now Available to Students, Researchers, Artists, Curators, and the Public

NEW YORK, September 15, 2016—The Museum of Modern Art announces the release of an extensive digital archive accessible to historians, students, artists, and anyone concerned with modern and contemporary art: a comprehensive account of the Museum’s exhibitions from its founding, in 1929, to today. This new digital archive, which will continue to grow as materials become available, is now accessible on MoMA’s website, at moma.org/history.

Providing an unparalleled history of the Museum’s presentation of modern and contemporary art on a widely available platform, the project features over 3,500 exhibitions, illustrated by primary documents such as installation photographs, press releases, checklists, and catalogues, as well as lists of included artists. By making these unique resources available at no charge, the exhibition history digital archive directly aligns with the Museum’s mission of encouraging an ever-deeper understanding of modern and contemporary art and fostering scholarship.

“The Museum of Modern Art has played a crucial role in the development of an audience for modern and contemporary art for nearly 90 years,” said MoMA Director Glenn D. Lowry. “In making these materials freely available, we hope not only to foster and enable scholarship, but also to encourage a wider interest in this important chapter of art history that the Museum represents.”

The exhibition history project was initiated and overseen by Michelle Elligott, Chief of Archives, and Fiona Romeo, Director of Digital Content and Strategy, The Museum of Modern Art. Over the course of the last two-and-a-half years, three MoMA archivists integrated over 22,000 folders of exhibition records dating from 1929 to 1989 from its registrar and curatorial departments, performed preservation measures, vetted the contents, and created detailed descriptions of the records for each exhibition.

The digital archive can be freely searched, or browsed in a more structured way by time period or exhibition type. Each entry includes a list of all known artists featured in the exhibition. Artist pages likewise list all of the exhibitions that have included that artist, along with any of their works in MoMA’s collection online. The index of artists participating in Museum exhibitions now includes more than 20,000 unique names.”

I almost fell over when I saw this. Now? You can revisit every show in the history of MoMA. Unprecedented! I’ve lost my day looking through this site. It’s absolutely unbelievable! Having the chance to FINALLY “see” shows I missed and only heard about, and shows I saw (like the 1980 Picasso Retrospective, possibly the greatest Art show ever), again, is just a dream come true! Here’s a sample, from Moma’s very first show titled “Cezanne, Gaugin, Seurat, Van Gogh,” in 1929!

Mom'a First Show! Installation view of the exhibition Cézanne, Gauguin, Seurat, Van Gogh, on view November 7, 1929 through December 7, 1929 at The Museum of Modern Art, New York. The Museum of Modern Art Archives, New York. Photographer: Peter Juley

MoMA’s First Show! Installation view of the exhibition Cézanne, Gauguin, Seurat, Van Gogh, on view November 7, 1929 through December 7, 1929 at The Museum of Modern Art, New York. The Museum of Modern Art Archives, New York. Photographer: Peter Juley

To this point, Art shows have only lived on, after their closing, through exhibition catalogs and what’s been written or posted about them.

No more!

Here’s a chance to see how the show was hung, what works were grouped together or hung next to each other. Just Wow!

And? You can download catalogs, too!

Now? Of course I’m hoping The Met shocks me with something similar, and every other Museum in the world follows Moma’s groundbreaking example!

Don’t wait. Do not pass “Go.” Go here, now!

*-Soundtrack for this Post is “If I Had My LIfe to Live Over,” by Larry Vincent, Moe Jaffe and Henry H. Tobias, and performed by Doris Day.

Please send comments, thoughts, feedback or propositions to denizen at nighthawknyc.com.
Click the white box on the upper right, for the archives, to search, or to subscribe.
This Post was created by Kenn Sava for www.nighthawknyc.com

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…


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.


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


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


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.


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.


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-


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.





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.”

This Post was created by Kenn Sava for nighthawknyc.com
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The New Whitney Museum- The Roofdeck of American Art


“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 & Guggenheim & Whitney modifications, June, 1987. I love the very fitting drawing they added.

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.


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.


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.


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…




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,


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 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.


8th Floor Deck.

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


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.


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


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.


“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


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

In the Whitney’s shadow. 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.

This Post was created by Kenn Sava for nighthawknyc.com
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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.