While we cringe every time we hear someone refer to themselves as a “brand”, it’s impossible to deny that nowadays people sell. Celebrity can arise as much from a book one labored on for five years as a viral video one shot in five seconds. Sometimes we fail to comprehend the attention, but then there are numerous articles calling the Mona Lisa overrated. (Google it.) Portraits are depictions of people, and what makes them uniquely engaging is there are at least two people involved: the artist and the subject. The subject could be attractive, the artist could be notorious, and the relationship between the two could be scandalous. People never fail to intrigue.
Art itself, each individual piece, is always subject to personal taste. But there’s also the curator: the visionary selecting those pieces and bringing them together to form an exhibition. A great curator can make all the difference. You may find a painting by a particular artist that speaks to your very soul, but his body of work may reveal a hallmark style or experimental techniques that inspire quite the opposite. Human Interest: Portraits from the Whitney’s Collection offers both incredible individual pieces and inspired collective thematics. With 200 works, presented in the form of 11 thematic sections and covering the entire 6th and 7th floor of the Whitney Museum’s magnificent interior, the exhibit delivers a vast compendium of the art’s oldest genres spanning from the 1900s to the present day.
Of all of the sections, New York Portrait, located on the 7th floor, piqued our interest. In particular, Lever Building II, the graphic painting and collage by Idelle Weber, circa 1970. Though we couldn’t locate any reference citing it as an inspiration, Steve Fuller and Mark Gardner’s iconic title sequence for Mad Men seemed too eerily similar to claim as mere coincidence. George Tooker’s surreal painting, The Subway, circa 1950, using egg tempera — a Renaissance-era technique creating a smooth, matte surface — is reminiscent of a carnival funhouse mirror, perfectly capturing the alienation and isolation of contemporary urban life.
Meanwhile, Howard Kanovitz’s mesmerizing New Yorkers I, circa 1965, employs the brilliant use of shadow swirling around men in suits and ties, with only the grid of a window offering a view of the wider city outside. And of course, there’s Susan Hall’s New York Portrait, in which the grid lines of a provocatively transparent dress worn by a woman with casual boldness as she reclines in a chair merge with the same grid pattern of an enormous window revealing the skyscrapers beyond. Each portrait reflects the city as its subject, its inhabitants simply representations or settings.
Our continued obsession with Humans of New York and This American Life, among others, proves that we all desire, in one way or another, to get to know the other people who inhabit our world. We want to learn their stories, and here, at the Whitney Museum, there are so many being told. Come and see for yourselves.
Human Interest: Portraits from the Whitney’s Collection is on display through February 12.
99 Gansevoort St
Mondays 10:30 am–6 pm
Wednesdays 10:30 am–6 pm
Thursdays 10:30 am–6 pm
Fridays 10:30 am–10 pm
Saturdays 10:30 am–10 pm
Sundays 10:30 am–6 pm
Pair it with:
Brunch at Bubby’s
Bubby’s offers “American” fare, which all too often is the euphemism for generic Cracker Barrel-type places. But not at Bubby’s. Bubby’s interprets “American” the way we wish everyone in America would: by taking into account ethnic diversity as well as contributions from all across the plains. As stated on their website, “American cuisine is much more than burgers and pie; it’s Chinese, Mexican, Southern, an elaborate and flavorful food scape created by the generations of people who built America.”
And it started as a pie shop. You know how much we love pie.
So pop into Bubby’s High Line location, which is located across the street from the Whitney, and partake in some comfort food. You’ll find Meiller’s Farm beef in the Double Bubby Burger and Anson Mills grits in the Cheddar Grits Breakfast. Wear a flag pin, it feels right.
P.S. This location has an Ample Hills Creamery attached to it. Just sayin’.
73 Gansevoort St
Sunday – Thursday 8 am–10 pm
Friday and Saturday 8 am–12 am