Whitney Museum Hijinx

Arbiter of Style Austin here, reporting to you in the first person. I spent this past Saturday wandering the Whitney Museum, a place that I teased earlier this year for the impenetrable curatorial writing that accompanied its Biennial exhibition, but that is by and large one of the best American art collections out there. Their current special exhibit surveys the work of Buckminster Fuller, the great American inventor, engineer, and eccentric responsible for, among other things, the geodesic dome and the word “tensegrity.” The concept of engineering-as-art was a pretty successful one, especially if, like me, you’re a fan of tetrahedrons, but I have to say that some of Fuller’s grandiose ideas seemed to hold more water than others. For example, the exhibition credits him with inventing the “4D house.” That sounds pretty stylish, but Bucky, doesn’t my house already exist in four dimensions? Don’t all houses? Oh well, at least you gave us EPCOT.

After the Fuller exhibit it was on to the fifth floor for the heart and soul of the Whitney: its permanent collection. This is a source of many permanent delights, including the good old American sun-drenched unfulfilled longing of Edward Hopper, and the electrifying, still-futuristic Futurism of Stella’s Brooklyn Bridge. (My museumgoing companion, an artist and writer herself, declared the Stella painting a better evocation of its subject than Hart Crane’s poem “To Brooklyn Bridge.” I ardently demurred. Compare them here and here and leave a comment to let us know what you think.) Along with all the classics, I was especially taken by a work added just last year: Robert Morris’s wall sculpture Hand and Toe Hold (1964), which consists of two horizontal metal bars mounted parallel to one another, each with clay embedded in the center. The clay contains the imprint of two hands and two feet apparently scrabbling to maintain their grip on the bars. The desperation evoked by the piece could be variously interpreted, but I saw it as primarily artistic: the struggle of the artist to maintain an intellectual and emotional hold on his work before it slips from his grasp—and ends up either failed and forgotten, or enshrined in the public limelight of a museum.

I think it’s a struggle Morris won. But if you haven’t been to the Whitney lately, go judge for yourself—and feel free to ardently demur.

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Filed under Art, New York

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