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whitney museum

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First Downtown Biennial

All Holes Matter. Why certainly! Art from the Biennial from Ajay Kurian. (Photo by Estate of Fred W. McDarrah)

All Holes Matter. Why certainly! Art from the Biennial from Ajay Kurian. (Photo by Estate of Fred W. McDarrah)

The first Whitney Biennial below 14th Street opens March 17 - and we got a sneak peek Monday. The younger and lesser known artists chosen to participate in the contemporary survey always set trends, and the show is always one of the most controversial of the year.

Museum Director Adam Weinberg and Biennial curators Christopher Y. Lew and Mia Locks were on hand as were many of the artists.

There is some good work, some is overtly political, some funny, some waaaaay too derivative, and some, well, not so good. The Whitney building remains a work of art. That is why you should go see it. It is up thru June 11.

(The event began as an annual exhibition in 1932 when the museum was on 8th St.; the first official biennial was at the Madison Avenue space in 1973.)

The Biennial is a great way to spend an afternoon, especially after learning about the original Whitney and so much more on a Save the Village tour.

Adam D. Weinberg, the Alice Pratt Brown Director of the Whitney Museum and Biennial curators Christopher Y. Lew and Mia Locks. (Photo by Estate of Fred W. McDarrah)

Adam D. Weinberg, the Alice Pratt Brown Director of the Whitney Museum and Biennial curators Christopher Y. Lew and Mia Locks. (Photo by Estate of Fred W. McDarrah)

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Stuart Davis, Villager

Stuart Davis, depicted on a postcard with a Fred W. McDarrah photo, surveys his survey at the Whitney Museum today.

Stuart Davis, depicted on a postcard with a Fred W. McDarrah photo, surveys his survey at the Whitney Museum today.

  We didn't rave about the Frank Stella show. And opening Friday is another Whitney extravaganza about another downtown artist. This one is sure to get better reviews.

  I'll leave it to the art history majors to offer a thoughtful analysis sprinkled with jargon like "juxtaposition" and "derivative of..."

  The show IS spectacular, and a worthy first-time-in-years tribute to a sometimes underrated and under-appreciated artist.

  Explored are his leftist activities, and how they ended, and why. Paintings from and about his years in Paris are front and center.  His original showings at the Whitney in the 1930s are explored. There are a lot of works on the walls, but not too many.

  From our perspective, what the show was lacking was any notice of his Village ties. Dude lived on 13th St - a very short walk from this show, and there is a plaque on the building noting his years there. No mention whatsoever of that in the show, unless I missed it.

  He also had a loft studio at the Hotel des Artistes (1 West 67th St.), but no mention I saw of that, either.

  And he is buried in the famous Green River cemetery in East Hampton, near the final resting places of Jackson Pollock, Lee Krasner, Frank O'Hara, Jimmy Ernst, James Brooks, Elaine deKooning,  Charles Gwathmey, Alfonso Ossorio, Jean Stafford and A. J. Liebling. Worth at least a mention in his retrospective, right?

  Of course people like to see how a painter looked, and how he may have looked in his studio. But there are zero photos here. Too bad. So we brought a Fred W. McDarrah photo of Davis that was made into a postcard many years ago, and set it up so Davis could see his show.

  Learn more about Davis, his artist peers, the Whitney and so much more on the Save the Village: The Artist's World tour. Sign up today!

Outside 175 W. 13th St.

Outside 175 W. 13th St.

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Meet the press

Big news. The tours, less so. But both in the same newspaper.

Big news. The tours, less so. But both in the same newspaper.

  Week after week the New York Times generously lists us among the few walking tours they include in the Spare Times listings. We remain quite humbled.

  And two more outlets weighed in with kind words this week also. Check it out:

http://www.qgazette.com/news/2015-12-09/Features/Save_The_Village_Walking_Tour.html

http://www.ambushmag.com/is2415/images/2415main26-30.pdf

  Finally, a terrific Trip Advisor review worth repeating:

http://www.tripadvisor.com/Attraction_Review-g60763-d8498033-Reviews-Save_The_Village_Tours-New_York_City_New_York.html

   "My girlfriend and I took the Artists tour this past Saturday. We had the pleasure of taking it with the son of Fred McDarrah himself. He provides you with postcard sized photos of iconic sites to help you really imagine the city's Downtown art scene during that time. Even though my girlfriend and I did not know that much about art history, our tour guide provided a ton of insight into how it came into being. I highly recommend it for anyone who is interested in history, art, and civic policy. My one recommendation would be that I would have liked the tour guide to not have focused so much on how much the places referenced in the tour were affected by gentrification and real estate development. I actually happened to agree with him, but it was something that I felt kind of took away from my experience of the tour just because it's a little sad. That being said, it's still a great way for tourists and longtime residents alike to view popular neighborhoods like the Village and Soho in a completely different light. My personal favorite point was seeing the original site of the Whitney Museum."

 

Stella not so stellar

One of the more familiar Stella works on display at the Whitney.

One of the more familiar Stella works on display at the Whitney.

  So far it is nothing but raves for the new Frank Stella retrospective at the Whitney.

  We didn't like it so much.

  Yes, we get the progression of materials from black paint to computer technology, and the breaking down of the square canvas as too limiting, and the sculpture-style works that jump off the wall. We sat thru some Art History classes, lived and traipsed through galleries at the evolution of SoHo in the '70s, and the Fun Gallery and the East Village graffiti scene in the '80s and uptown to Chelsea in the '90s. And Stella had shows every step of the way, including his early career retrospective at the Met.

  But art is about what moves you, what it makes you feel, and what it makes you think. Most of the work in the show registered pretty low on all those scales.

  The Black paintings are famous, and the geometric ones of odd sizes and shapes are familiar, pleasing, colorful and stand the test of time.

  Not so much for the later works. Giant metal wall creations based on Moby Dick were, to me, things John Chamberlain would have done and then thrown away. Other sculptures drew the eye everywhere and nowhere at the same time. The colors often were muted and dull.

  There was little to nothing I'd want to have on my own wall, and to see every single day.

  The work is supposed to be off putting, untraditional and unconventional. It is. So much so that I maintain that no one else likes it either. Why? No one has copied it. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. And so much art is derivative of something. Well, a lot of Stella's later work is derivative of zero, and has zero progeny. That says something.

  Uh oh.  Haven't used the work "juxtaposition" yet. Every art review, comment, caption, book or whatever else almost by law has to use the word "juxtaposition," doesn't it?      

  The Whitney remains a fab place. Fred W. McDarrah took some great photos of Stella. And lots of names you'll hear on the upcoming Save the Village: The Artist's World tour are represented at 99 Gansevoort Street. Go see the show and decide for yourself.  

Viewing the Frank Stella retrospective at the Whitney.

Viewing the Frank Stella retrospective at the Whitney.

A piece of Whitney History

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A piece of Whitney History

The scaffolding is finally off the New York Studio School at 8-12 West 8th St., a stop on the Save the Village tour. The building was the original home of the Whitney Museum, which opened at that location in 1931. The museum came into being when the Metropolitan Museum of Art rejected Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney’s gift of over 500 modern paintings. So she opened up her own museum. It is now regarded as one of the finest on the planet and is housed in a magnificent new space on Gansevoort Street after years on the Upper East Side. It left 8th St. in 1954.

Anyway, the point here is that for the first time in decades, the carved stone name of the museum is visible above the main doorway to the building.  

Or at least it will be temporarily. The school will cover it up again soon with its own signage.

But we snapped a photo of the uncovered doorway. It looks fantastic. You'd think the school would want to keep it visible; it is an extraordinary and unique link to art history. Can't they put their name off to the side, or above it. Or both if they think someone will mistake it for the Whitney Museum.

It remains impossible to fathom why everyone doesn't think like we do. Such a mystery.

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