Have no fear, solipsistic Jerry Saltz did find a way to structure his entire essay on the new Whitney museum to foreground himself from the first letter. Nonetheless, the critic makes an extraordinarily important point about the museum, its new location and the opportunities to broaden our experience of art from the fixation on superlative works:
The Whitney knows how to consider new work alongside old, how to throw together pieces produced in entirely different contexts and watch the sparks fly. Freed from the need to consign works forever to, say, a room (or collection) dedicated to Ashcan School painting or Pop, curators could hang a single painting in multiple shows over decades alongside different paintings from different decades each time, and each time prompt a different reckoning — in one case with the use of color, in another the use of line, then gesture, compositional strategies, relation to madness or Romanticism or urban experience, to music, materiality, process, to television or cinema or Continental philosophy. The list will be as long as the curators are creative.
The first show demonstrates the advantages quite powerfully. More than a quarter of the works on display have not been seen in decades, and many have never been shown before at all. The effect is to recast ideas about American art history by bringing new work into the fold without surrendering the tradition to people born since 1975 — to treat those artists and their work as part of a running conversation, and one that is designed to be constantly reevaulated. Over and over, artists whose work I thought I knew looked brand-new and suddenly relevant; second-stringers step forcefully to the fore as more prescient and pertinent than they’ve ever seemed. It’s thrilling, for example, to behold, in the gallery of vaunted Abstract Expressionist masterpieces like de Kooning’s Door to the River — maybe the best work in terms of sheer originality in the museum right now — and Rothko’s tremendous painting Four Darks in Red emanating like a Buddhist television set, Hedda Sterne’s electric New York, N.Y., 1955 with spray paint looking absolutely of the present. Miraculously, Alfonso Ossorio’s scratched and splattered canvas more than holds its own against Jackson Pollock. Revelations like this are more than the exception — and they are one very vital way to leverage the fresh energy of contemporary art into new insights about the past without entirely handing over the keys to the museum to the galleries up Tenth Avenue.
Jerry Saltz on the New Whitney Museum (Vulture/New York Magazine)