The Whitney Museum of American Art will open its new Renzo Piano-designed home at 99 Gansevoort Street between Washington and West Streets on May 1, 2015, with an ambitious exhibition that reexamines the history of American art from 1900 to today. America is Hard to See presents new perspectives on the Whitney's collection, reflecting on art in the United States with more than 600 works by some 400 artists. The exhibition—its title taken from a Robert Frost poem that was also used by the filmmaker Emile de Antonio for one of his political documentaries—is the most extensive display to date of the Whitney's collection.
Drawn from the Whitney's holdings, America is Hard to See examines the themes, ideas, beliefs, visions, and passions that have preoccupied and galvanized American artists over the past one hundred and fifteen years. The exhibition's narrative is propelled by a dynamic sense of invention and conflict, as artists struggled to work within and against established conventions and often directly engaged their political and social contexts. Works of art across all mediums will be displayed together, acknowledging the ways in which artists have engaged various modes of production and broken the boundaries between them. Numerous pieces that have rarely, if ever, been shown will appear alongside familiar icons, in a conscious effort to challenge assumptions about the American art canon. America Is Hard to See is organized by a team of Whitney curators led by Donna De Salvo, Chief Curator and Deputy Director for Programs, which includes Carter E. Foster, Steven and Ann Ames Curator of Drawing; Dana Miller, Curator of the Permanent Collection; and Scott Rothkopf, Nancy and Steve Crown Family Curator and Associate Director of Programs; with Jane Panetta, Assistant Curator; Catherine Taft, Assistant Curator; and Mia Curran, Curatorial Assistant.
Adam D. Weinberg, the Whitney's Alice Pratt Brown Director, commented: "The DNA of the Whitney Museum—and Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney's vision to champion the art and artists of the United States—is encoded in its collection. Accordingly, to display a larger portion of our unparalleled holdings of American art was a key impetus for the new building. The opening exhibition offers an unprecedented occasion to display one hundred and fifteen years of American art, throughout the new Whitney. This will be the first of many opportunities to show the complexities, subtleties, and glories of the art of our country in a new light and to share aspects of the breadth and depth of our collection in all mediums."
Donna De Salvo noted: "The title America Is Hard to See points to the impossibility of offering a tidy picture of this country, its culture and, by extension, its art. The exhibition takes up this challenge through the lens of the Whitney's collection, re-examining well-known art historical tropes, proposing new narratives, and even expanding the definition of who counts as an American artist. We did not conceive of this exhibition as a comprehensive survey, but rather as a sequence of provocative thematic chapters that taken together reflect on American art history from the vantage point of today."
Installed throughout the building, America Is Hard to See is organized as a series of twenty-three "chapters"—sections that build on a particular theme through related artworks. Each chapter is named after a work of art that appears in that section of the show. The exhibition unfolds chronologically, beginning with a display relating to the Whitney's origins on Eighth Street, on view in the first-floor gallery (a space which is open to the public free of charge), and proceeding with works from the first decades of the twentieth century on the Museum's top gallery floor on Eight The exhibition continues on Floors Seven and Six with work from the mid-twentieth century, and concludes on Five, where works from the late 1960s to the present will be displayed in the Museum's largest space, an 18,000-square-foot column-free gallery with floor-to-ceiling windows and striking views to the east and west. The show will also occupy the Museum's terraces, which provide nearly 13,000 square feet of additional exhibition space. The majority of the exhibition will be on view through September 27, 2015, with some floors closing on a staggered schedule before and after that date.