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An American Legacy, A Gift to New York

 

On October 24, 2002 the Whitney Museum of American Art will open An American Legacy, A Gift to New York. The exhibition commemorates the recent, landmark gift to the Whitney from its Board of Trustees of 87 works of postwar American art. The works in the exhibition are by key figures of 20th-century art, including Jasper Johns, Helen Frankenthaler, Ellsworth Kelly, Claes Oldenburg, Chuck Close, Barnett Newman, Roy Lichtenstein, Jackson Pollock, Robert Rauschenberg, Mark Rothko, and Andy Warhol, and together capture the pivotal era in American art after World War II. They will be exhibited in the fourth-floor Emily Fisher Landau Galleries from October 24 through January 26, 2003. (left: Jasper Johns, Savarin, 1982, Monotype over lithograph. 50 x 38 in. (127 x 96.5 cm), Gift of The American Contemporary Art Foundation, Inc., Leonard A. Lauder, President)

Maxwell L. Anderson, Alice Pratt Brown Director of the Whitney Museum, noted, "This exhibition is a landmark event in the Whitney's history. An American Legacy spotlights the achievements of many of the leading American artists whose work was acclaimed beginning in the 1950s and 1960s. Their astonishing creativity is celebrated here, and we are delighted to share these incomparable works with the public."

The show of 87 acquisitions, overseen by Marla Prather, the Whitney's curator of postwar art, spans the second half of the 20th century. The earliest work dates from 1949 (The Promise by Barnett Newman) and the most recent from 2002 (Soft Viola by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen). "Spanning a half-century of American art, this selection does not constitute a strictly historical or definitive overview," Ms. Prather points out, "but provides an opportunity to examine this crucial period in American art after World War II with works of superlative quality."

Ms. Prather continued, "Among the highlights of the show are a number of paintings from the heyday of the New York School by such figures as Newman, Pollock, Kline and Rothko. The exhibition will also present the luminous chromatic experiments of Color Field painters Helen Frankenthaler and Kenneth Noland, and the responses to these traditions in early, formative work by Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, and Cy Twombly, as well as in the singular work of Jay DeFeo. Work from the 60s and 70s takes us through the radical innovations of Pop artists Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol, and on to the conceptually based art of Robert Ryman, Donald Judd and Sol LeWitt."

The exhibition reflects the strengthening of the Whitney's collection in work from these crucial decades, building on already strong holdings of work by each of the artists represented. The Whitney has organized major monographic exhibitions of most of the exhibition's artists, namely Jim Dine, Helen Frankenthaler, Jasper Johns, Donald Judd, Ellsworth Kelly, Franz Kline, Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen, Robert Rauschenberg, Edward Ruscha, Lucas Samaras, Cy Twombly, and Andy Warhol. All of the artists have been represented at the Whitney in dozens of group shows since the 1950s.

 

Highlights of the exhibition

Among the highlights of the New York School works are Franz Kline's monumental Red Painting (1961), one of the artist's last paintings, as well as The Promise (1949), by Barnett Newman, one of Newman's early "zip" paintings. Jackson Pollock is represented by Number 18, 1951, the first of Pollock's black-enamel paintings to be acquired by the Whitney. Also to be shown is a significant Clyfford Still, Untitled (1956), and a classic, luminous Mark Rothko, Blue, Yellow, Green on Red (1954).

Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg are two figures who bridge the Abstract Expressionist and Pop eras. Johns is represented by seven single works and two significant suites. The earliest work is 0 through 9 (1961), one of the eleven paintings Johns made of superimposed numbers between 1960 and 1961. Johns' monumental, two-paneled painting, Double White Map (1965) is one of his many experiments with variations on the map motif. In addition, the show features 17 monotypes from the 1982 Savarin series, a 1980 watercolor of two flags that was a study for a 50th anniversary poster for the Whitney Museum, and a series of eight untitled ink tracings from 1986.

Two early Rauschenbergs are featured: a ca.-1951 black painting done while the artist was a student at Black Mountain College, and an early Combine painting, Blue Eagle (1961). Two recent sculptures by Cy Twombly will be on view, and one painting -- a major oil-stick-on-canvas from 1964, reworked by the artist 20 years later.

The exhibition contains a wealth of significant, early Pop works. Among the seven Claes Oldenburg works will be Giant BLT (Bacon, Lettuce, and Tomato Sandwich) (1963), one of his first soft-vinyl sculptures, and his room-size installation Bedroom Ensemble (1963/95). Seven Andy Warhols from the early '60s are included -- $199 Television (1961), painted by hand, before the artist turned to printing processes; three Brillo Box sculptures; two important celebrity silkscreen paintings, Elvis 2 Times (1963) and Nine Jackies (1964); and one of his rarely seen Dance Step diagrams, from 1962. Roy Lichtenstein's Bathroom (1961), the artist's first interior, and Girl in Window (Study for World's Fair Mural) (1963), the preparatory canvas for a mural commissioned by Philip Johnson for the 1964 New York World's Fair, are in this grouping as well.

Three key figures of conceptually based art - Donald Judd, Sol LeWitt and Robert Ryman - are represented with multiple works each, and carry the timeline of the exhibition from the 60s through to the 90s. Among the exhibition's artists, Kelly, Oldenburg and Johns, in addition to Ryman, are represented by both early and very recent work.

The works on view are all entering the Museum's collection, thanks to a gift initiative led by Whitney Chairman Leonard A. Lauder, and realized through his generosity and that of 14 other trustees: Daniel Benton; Flora Miller Biddle, granddaughter of the Whitney Museum's founder, Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney; Melva Bucksbaum; Chuck Close; Joel S. Ehrenkranz (with his wife, Anne); Faith Golding; James A. Gordon; Whitney President Robert J. Hurst; Emily Fisher Landau; Raymond J. Learsy; Thomas H. Lee; Adriana Mnuchin; Brooke Garber Neidich; and Laurie Tisch Sussman.

Marla Prather will lead a public gallery tour on Wednesday, November 13, 2002 at 7:00 pm. A catalogue will be published in conjunction with the exhibition, and other educational and community programs for children, youth, seniors and the general public are also being planned.

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