The Whitney’s current formulation of the permanent collection- Modernisms

Instead of reviewing the famous Whitney Biennial I decided to concentrate on something that requires a consistent commitment to a range of theory. That is, the constant reworking of a permanent collection. This could be the curator’s most difficult job; ‘making it new’ with the old, every few months.


Because of the Biennial taking up three out of the four floors the current presentation of the permanent collection is particularly condensed. Dividing the top floor of the Whitney into four very broad themes that include, “The fragmentation and abstraction of early modernism; the realism that focused on people and society; the aesthetics of industry, city and machine; and, finally, the convergence between mental state and bodily gesture that led to new types of form and abstraction,” you certainly don’t get a full sense of what ‘modern’ American art is but not an oversimplified version either.


The first thing one notice when entering the galleries is that everything is in the right place. There is no attempt at jarring juxtapositions of work. This seems to allow an easier read of each individual work; Edward Hopper is next to Thomas Hart Benton and Jasper Johns is next to Robert Rauschenberg. Certainly, there are overtones of the ‘overlapping’ of approach in these works but it is not presented in an overt manner. Walking through the different veins of American modernism is then, not so bad, as one gets a chance to set up their own relations between work.


Overall the Whitney curators have done a respectable job of editing the permanent collection down to just one floor. By not seeking a synthesis of their massive collection The Whitney has created a pleasurable show that won’t force you into one strain of thought and allow a more personal retooling of American modernism.

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