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PICKING AND CHOOSING
AT THE WHIT

by Charlie Finch
 
I was talking with Donna De Salvo, whose masterful selection from the Whitney Museum’s permanent collection, "Full House: The Whitney’s Collection at 75," opens at the Whit this weekend.

"This show is definitely an argument for more space," Donna commented, reflecting on the museum’s long struggle to expend on the Upper East Side, "I could switch the works by Johns and Reinhardt in this show, for example, many times."

Catty observers (at MoMA, for one) have always characterized the Whitney’s permanent collection as both narrow and shallow, but "Full House" includes masterpieces that will take your breath away and make even Marie Josee Kravis of MoMA drool.

Battered and weathered, Brice Marden’s Summer Place from 1972, wafts in the breeze of beaches past. Barnett Newman’s Day One is as majestically obstinate as the day it didn’t sell at Betty Parsons Gallery in 1952.

Racing Thoughts, Jasper Johns’ view of Leo Castelli from a cool tub o’ water is the Jaspman at his most endearingly reflective. Red heads gleam and sneer from Guston’s iconic Cabal and Basquiat’s Hollywood Africans laughs ironically at the pretensions of "high yella."

But this carefully chosen and sparingly installed exhibition is not just about the American classics. "I especially like the way you placed Jackie Winsor’s Cement Piece around the corner from Koons’ vacuum cleaners," I remarked to Ms. De Salvo. "Precisely," she replied, "They work well with the Judds. People wanted to put Koons in the Pop section, but he works better with the Minimal artists." It’s all about the impenetrability of the object, although Ms. Winsor’s sculpture amusingly hints at the porous.

Martin Puryear’s Sanctum, a black mesh behemoth with the aura of a pulsating brain is another underappreciated gem in this subtle show, which couples with Rauschenberg’s yellow-and-red striped caftan Yoicks!! Whether it’s Andy’s silver double Elvis or Pollock’s dreamy Number 27 you will find mellow history drifting through the Whitney this summer. I could have done without the Paul McCarthys and the Louise Bourgeois, and Adrian Piper’s leviathan to her shifting personae, while powerful, belies the understated touch of Donna De Salvo, but "Full House" performs a most valuable service for the museumgoer: It restores the primacy of each individual artwork at the Whit against the obsessive branding and marketing of artist’s names which dominates the market today.

To look at things afresh, yet with middle-aged nostalgia, is Ms. De Salvo’s triumph, and, hopefully, yours.

"Full House: Views of the Whitney’s Collection at 75," June 29, 2006-September 3, 2006, at the Whitney Museum of American Art, 945 Madison Avenue at 75th Street, New York, N.Y. 10021


CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).



 



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