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A CurtainUp Review
America Is Hard to See
. . .an easy to enjoy and different theatrical experience at the spacious new Whitney Museum

All photos, unless otherwise identified, courtesy of the Whitney Museum
Every gallery features a floor-to-ceiling rear window leading to a terrace with spectacular views.
The front entrance is reached from a bustling street of restaurants and boutiques.
As a theater critic I don't have as much time as I'd like to wander around New York's museums and art galleries. Yet, going to a museum in very much a theatrical experience. Instead of watching a scripted story brought to life by actors, you see hundreds of stories unfold all around you as you roam around the various galleries. There's the story of your own reaction to the work on display and as a figure in the live portrait created by the museum goers all around you. There's also the theatrical spin-off potential of stories set in museums, like Tina Howe's wonderful satire Museum (my review of most recent revival ); also biographical plays about the artists on display, like Red ( my review of the Broadway production)about Mark Rothko (And yes, one of Rothko's big red pieces is part of the current exhibition).

The new Whitney is of course very much a New York story since real estate-- being in the right neighborhood at the right time -- has always been an essential part of the New York experience. So the Whitney's move to the meat packing district and near the Southern end of the High Line is very much a case of being in the right neighborhood. While plays often move from Off-Broadway to the Great White Way and from there often back to more economically viable off-Broadway houses, The Whitney is moving from one high end location to another, if different, high end one.

The famous Calder Circus (Photo: Elyse Sommer)
Judging from the crowds milling around the lobby on weekday, undaunted by the $22 entry fee, the new Whitney is a huge success. And don't let those crowds fool you. Once you've collected your tickets and headed for the eighth floor from which you should work yourself down, the galleries are remarkably quiet and uncrowded as well as sensibly laid out for easy navigation. And America Is Hard to See is truly a magnificent way to celebrate the museum's mission of celebrating American art and using its expanded space to showcase little known artists as well as and right alongside Whitney "stars." Even these old-time magnet artists' works are new and different within this new exhibit configuration. Take the wonderful Calder circus that greeted visitors entering the old Whitney. It's still in a center stage position, but this time on the 7th floor and surrounded by other works, including a different kind of circus, a boxing match by George Bellows.

George Traylor
Bill Traylor's Walking Man, watercolor and graphite pencil on cardboard. 1939-42.
Given that this is an all-inclusive American art story, attention has also been paid to outsider art. I was particularly intrigued by outsider artist George Traylor who used discarded cartons to fashion his canvases since I was headed from the Whitney to see Athol Fugard's new play about a South African outsider artist who used the rocks on the dusty hillside of a community where he also worked as a farm laborer ( The Painted Rocks of Revolver Creek).

Keith Haring, initially an outsider artist since his early canvases were New York's subway walls and cars. The social-activit artist became very much an insider, and inspired though all too briefly since he died of of AIDS. His story inspired a musical (unfortunately also short-lived), Radiant Baby My review of the Public Theater production ).

As I worked my way downward through each of the exhibitions "chapters" the only sign of the crowds the Whitney's new home is attracting was in the elevators (themselves works of art). Each gallery continued to project a peaceful, uncluttered welcoming experience. And if you're lucky, as I was, to be there on a beautiful day the stop on each floor's terrace was exhilarating.

George Segal
George Segal sculptures (Photo: Elyse Sommer)

The sculptures scattered throughout the exhibit also included familiar old friends like a trio of George Segal figures. The above mentioned museum inspired satire by playwright Tina Laundau included a sly reference to Hansen's work. The never before seen scuptures and assemblages were sometimes amusing and other times deliciously mysterious.

Given the size of this exhibit, it's too much to take it all in with a single visit. By the time I reached the last terrace (this one with comfortable leather couches and not just benches), I was primed for a return visit.

To have a look at more of what's on offer, check out the museum's website which will walk you through all eight flors of An Online view of the America Is Hard to Find exhibits
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