By McKenzi Thi Murphy
The Whitney Museum of American Art attempts to bring modern American art to the forefront, instead, it dismally disappoints. For $25 dollars, adult patrons can peruse four (out of eight) floors of trite and uninspiring artwork, including pieces by Andy Warhol. Students have the privilege of spending just $18, though minors can enter for free with a valid ID (attempts to falsely claim such status are instantly rebuffed). The price of admission, greater than that of the inarguably better Metropolitan Museum of Art, far supersedes the meager offerings.
Founded in 1931 by Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, the museum now resides in the West Village at 99 Gansevoort Street and currently features the overhyped Andy Warhol and his repetitive commercialized work. The replication of many of his famous pieces (Campbell’s soup at the forefront) was a clear effort to extend his own fame, resulting in empty and pale imitations.
Upon exiting the elevator on the sixth floor of the Whitney, patrons are instantly struck with discordant techno music that shatters the otherwise contemplative museum atmosphere. Accompanying the cacophony, 207 square box television screens present images of a fully naked woman spinning psychedelically as the camera zooms in on her pelvic area and breasts. For a few startling seconds, copies of the woman’s dark pubic hair overlap each other on the screens until every one shows at least a dozen vulvas.
The “Fin de Siècle II” is the work of the late Paik Nam June, and perplexingly features images of stars, a green disco ball, and David Bowie’s digitized face alongside the nude woman. The accompanying description offers no explanation for the extensive and uncensored female nudity other than sheer shock value.
As the focal point of the Whitney’s “Programmed: Rules, Codes, and Choreographies in Art, 1965-2018,” Paik’s spectacle attempts to convey a message about the difficulties of focusing in the face of distracting visual and auditory sources in our everyday lives.
It, like the museum housing it, falls flat.
A suspected attempt to parody the excessive sexual content available today instead doubles down on the constant objectification of women as nothing more than the sum of our sexual parts, and extorts this woman for shock value.
Masquerading as a museum of quality art, the Whitney instead lightly peppers the stark white walls with little of note. What is displayed elicits only irritation. Inexplicably, a small square frame of flowers had been placed in the top corner of a room with no accompanying description or reason.
A neon green light-up sign by Joseph Kosuth spells out “Five Words in Green Neon” and is part of a series of equally uninspiring signs that have all sold for well over $100,000 each. Allegedly, his work deals with what art actually is rather than aesthetics. Clearly, then, art is meaningless.
Among the allegedly coveted selections from the museum’s extensive collection (21,000 works) are a few pleasing Georgia O’Keeffe paintings. Within the same floor, there’s a sizable black-painted canvas featuring, what else, two lines in slightly different shades of grey. Obviously, art in its finest form.
Wasted admission aside, the gift shop has the gall to offer up gems such as 192 crisp one-dollar bills neatly stitched into a little book and sold for twice its value, a gaudy DIY-esque headband of tropical flowers for just as much, and a pair of sunglasses heavily reminiscent of dollar store plastic in an equally inelegant color for nearly $200. Rounding off the absurdity, patrons can purchase Andy Warhol condoms for $1.50 with the tagline “Only-At-The-Whitney-Shop.” For good reason, I assure you.
The Whitney is nothing more than a pretentious display of subpar artwork and appears more concerned with turning a profit than providing a quality experience. The only redeeming quality is the view of the Hudson River from the stairwell, and no one has to pay to see that.