Wednesday, March 30, 2005

A Non-critic’s Critique

I visited the Whitney Museum of American Art on Friday and found that most of the collection was really interesting. Before I go any further though, I must admit that I am not an art expert by any stretch. Instead, I am offering a critique of the collection from the point of view of a non-expert. My first thoughts are that there is much of modern art that I do not understand (I am still trying to get my head around Jackson Pollock’s work). The third floor had an exhibit of Cy Twombly’s work. Either that stuff is way over my head (or ahead of my time) or the people who have “discovered it” are playing tricks on everyone. I have tried reading up on him to see if I can get a better understanding of what his stuff is really trying to say. Biographies and descriptions of Twombly link him to minimalism, yet they also say that his work has resisted public appeal because it is so hard for people to understand and verbalize. If anyone can actually verbalize why finger paintings and his chalkboard period make him “one of the most important American artists living today”, I would love to learn. I even tried to follow one of the museum tours around – all I got from it was a description of the feel you get due to the colors he chose and how you can notice the light smudging effect he used. Seeing his paintings and then reading verbose reviews that use language like anti-sensual and cerebral spareness don’t do enough to bring an art novice like myself up to speed. Tim Hawkinson’s work on the other hand was easier to grasp. His sculptures were creative and used everyday materials, his mechanical constructions were intelligent and fun, and his paintings/ drawings were very intricate.

Much of the permanent collection was very impressive. They had at least a half-dozen Edward Hopper pieces - all of which are amazing. And their depression era art is probably the only modern art I can really understand. Their images are surreal depictions of the great depression, either through the lens of the urban or rural landscape. You can see the influences of European surrealists like Dali, except the American pieces are grounded in the feelings of loneliness and despair from the Great Depression and therefore I connected to them better than I would a Dali piece. To conclude, if you find yourself in New York, the Whitney is worth checking out – especially the fourth and fifth floors.