Art Insight #12: Adam D. Weinberg
The Alice Pratt Brown Director, Whitney Museum of American Art
The Beating Heart of American Art, Witness to the History of the Whitney
The Whitney Museum of American Art is one of the world’s leading art institutions. This year it opened its new location on Gansevoort Street in Manhattan’s Meatpacking District. After closing for a year following a blockbuster retrospective on Jeff Koons, the museum was rejuvenated with a design by Renzo Piano, winner of the 1998 Pritzker Prize.
The Whitney’s move has drawn the attention of the art world.
Yoko Ono gave a panegyric on Instagram following her first visit, and the ambitious inaugural exhibition, “America Is Hard to See,” presented more than 600 works from the museum’s collection, spanning the history of American art since 1900. At the center of the excitement is Adam D. Weinberg, director of the Whitney since 2003. He says: “The intention of Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney to embrace and support American art and artists is the DNA of the Whitney Museum of American Art. And this vision is well demonstrated through our museum’s collection.” We asked this influential figure about the direction and future of the Whitney, its relationship to other institutions, and to Korean art as well.
New York is indeed a city of great museums, and each museum uniquely and meaningfully contributes to the rich cultural landscape. What distinguishes the Whitney is our dedication to American art with a particular focus on living artists. - Adam D. Weinberg -
Q. The grand opening of the Whitney’s new building has been a big issue in the global art scene, including in Korea. How are you feeling in regards to the change?
We are thrilled to have opened our new building downtown and to have received such an enthusiastic response from the art world, the press, and the public in general. We had a wonderful home uptown for many years, but we outgrew it. When we opened our uptown building in 1966, there were 2,000 works in our collection—today it consists of nearly 22,000. Now we have a building designed especially for our needs and primarily to provide artists with flexible and dynamic spaces in which to create their art. We’ve also gained not only substantial exhibition space, but essential firsts for the Whitney: an Education Center, a theater, a Works on Paper Study Center, as well as a greatly expanded Conservation Lab. Exhibition space in the new building, including the outdoor terraces, is about double what we had previously, and the amount of gallery space we have dedicated to the collection is nearly triple. In short, our increased size enables the Whitney to expand our exhibition program, to show far more works from our renowned permanent collection, to offer a greater variety of performances and programs, and to welcome many more visitors as the museum continues to grow and evolve. We feel we are off to a great start.
Q. The inaugural exhibition “America Is Hard to See” also has the attention of the art world. What was the process behind organizing the exhibition?
The opening exhibition was organized as a series of 23 “chapters,” each building on a particular theme and, taken together, expands the idea of American art history from the beginning of the 20th century to today. Throughout the exhibition we explored issues of politics, identity, popular culture, and personal narrative. We also looked at art made during the contemporary moment—post-9/11, post-Katrina, post-financial crisis of 2008—to explore how artists are addressing those concerns. The team of curators that organized the exhibition—which included Carter Foster, Dana Miller, and Scott Rothkopf, as well as Jane Panetta, Catherine Taft, and Mia Curran—worked together under the leadership of Donna De Salvo. The team first conducted an unprecedented study of the collection in consultation with other members of the curatorial department, as well as artists, curators, and scholars from a variety of fields. Throughout this process, they rediscovered forgotten works and figures to show alongside the museum’s acknowledged treasures. It was a great way to open our new building and to share more of our collection with the world.
Q. New York is a city of internationally renowned museums. How do you feel these institutions connect to the contemporary art scene, and what do you feel makes the Whitney distinct?
New York is indeed a city of great museums, and each museum uniquely and meaningfully contributes to the rich cultural landscape. What distinguishes the Whitney is our dedication to American art with a particular focus on living artists. “American” for us includes artists who were not born here but have come to live and work in the United States, as well as American-born artists who work abroad. Additionally, the Whitney is the only New York museum founded by an artist—Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney. This is fundamental to our identity. The museum was created for the primary purpose of supporting artists and this continues to be our guiding principle.
Q. What exhibitions do you have planned for 2016? Any key shows you would like to highlight?
Following the inaugural presentation, exhibitions devoted to the work of Archibald Motley, Frank Stella, Jared Madere and Rachel Rose will open in the fall of 2015. We’ll also present an exhibition celebrating the magnanimous gift given to the Whitney by Thea Westreich Wagner and Ethan Wagner of over 500 works of art. Coming up in 2016 and 2017 are of exhibitions of Laura Poitras, Sophia Al-Maria, Stuart Davis, Carmen Herrera, and David Wojnarowicz. For more information, readers can go to www.whitney.org.
Q. What is the relationship between the Whitney and corporations? What do you think is most important when private commissions come into the museum?
Corporate underwriting for the arts is essential in the United States where government sponsorship of museums is limited. Corporations do not “commission” the museum but rather support the work—exhibitions, public programs, education initiatives—that we are already committed to doing.
Q. Do you have any tips or helpful advice for first-time visitors to the Whitney? For example, anything they should be sure to not miss?
Each visitor creates his or her own experience when visiting the museum. There is no prescribed way of seeing the museum; you can let yourself gravitate to the works that appeal most to your curiosity. Many visitors are excited to see the works of Edward Hopper and Alexander Calder, two of the artists most closely associated with the Whitney, and we are happy they will be more consistently on view in our permanent collection galleries. In addition to seeing their favorites, we hope visitors will also discover artists who are new to them. The increased size of the new building gives visitors to the Whitney something they have never had before—the opportunity to view our groundbreaking exhibitions in the context of our collection, allowing us to show the art of today alongside more than a century of American art. This is a great advantage not only for visitors, but for curators and artists as well. Visitors should also spend time in our outdoor galleries, where they can enjoy spectacular views in every direction: staggered rooftops to the east and the Hudson River to the west, the Statue of Liberty to the south, the Empire State Building to the north. And, I also urge visitors to participate in daily tours, educational programs, and performances, depending on the time they visit.
Q. What are your thoughts on the Korean art scene? Are there any artists who interest you in particular?
I was lucky to have visited the Gwangju Biennale last year and was excited to see such a vibrant and interesting contemporary art scene flourishing in Korea. It was a wonderful opportunity to see both new art and art that was just new to me. During the same visit, I also visited several contemporary arts galleries and museums and found an installation by Sung Hwan Kim particularly memorable. Komsooja and Do Ho Suh are among the Korean artists whose work I know best. Both are represented in the Whitney’s permanent collection.
Q. It seems that boundaries are globally disappearing from the contemporary art scene.
It is very exciting to us that the contemporary art scene has become increasingly global. We love being part of an international dialogue where boundaries are erased and artists can influence each other in ways that weren’t possible before. We also have wonderful relationships with many institutions abroad and collaborate often on touring exhibitions or by loaning works of art in order to expose a broader audience to artists we admire. As an example, “Collected by Thea Westreich Wagner and Ethan Wagner” is an exhibition of the works given to the Whitney and the Centre Pompidou by the title collectors. Both institutions will present in consecutive exhibitions (the Whitney’s opens on November 20, 2015; the Pompidou’s opens on June 9, 2016) and include works by both American and non-American artists. We feel this says a lot about the way the works were collected and about how global the art scene has become.
Q. What advice would you give to aspiring artists, art historians, and curators?
The best advice I can give to young artists and students in the art field is to keep an open mind and to see and learn everything you can. Travel, read, create, but most of all be focused, courageous, and authentic. ■ with ARTINPOST
Exterior view of Whitney Museum of American Art from Gansevoort street Photographed by Ed Lederman 2015
Exterior view of Whitney Museum of American Art from Gansevoort street Photographed by Ed Lederman 2015
View of Whitney Museum of American Art Photograph ⓒ Nic Lehoux
Edward Hopper <Early Sunday Morning> 1930 Oil on canvas 89.4×153cm Purchase, with funds from Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney
Robert Henri <Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney> 1916 Oil on canvas 126.8×182.9cm Gift of Flora Whitney Miller
Jean-Michel Basquiat <Hollywood Africans> 1983 Acrylic and oil stick on canvas 213.5×213.4cm Gift of Douglas S. Cramer
Nam June Paik <Magnet TV> 1965 Modified black-and-white television set and magnet 98.4×48.9×62.2cm Purchase, with funds from Dieter Rosenkranz
Jasper Johns <Three Flags> 1958 Encaustic on canvas 77.8×115.6×11.7cm Purchase, with funds from the Gilman Foundation, Inc., The Lauder Foundation, A. Alfred Taubman, Laura-Lee Whittier Woods, Howard Lipman, and Ed Downe in honor of the Museum's 50th Anniversary
Andy Warhol <Before and After, 4> 1962 Acrylic and graphite pencil on linen 183.2×253.4cm Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase, with funds from Charles Simon 71.226. ⓒ 2015 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
R. H. Quaytman <Distracting Distance, Chapter 16> 2010 Screenprint and gesso on wood 62.5×101.3cm Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase, with funds from the Painting and Sculpture Committee 2010.54. ⓒ R. H. Quaytman
Adam D. Weinberg holds a BA from Brandeis University and a master’s degree from the State University of New York at Buffalo. He became the Alice Pratt Brown Director of the Whitney Museum in October 2003. During his tenure, the Whitney has presented major exhibitions on a range of artists, including Yayoi Kusama, Georgia O’Keeffe, and Ed Ruscha, and Jeff Koons. The museum was offered award-winning educational programs; and experienced dramatic growth in the permanent collection; and, in 2015, opened its new building in the Meatpacking District in Manhattan.
Beginning in 1981, Weinberg served as Director of Education and Assistant Curator at the Walker Art Center and then he first joined the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1989 as Director of the Whitney at Equitable Center. In 1991, he became the Artistic and Program Director of the American Center in Paris. From 1999 to 2003, Weinberg was the Director of the Addison Gallery of American Art at Phillips Academy.
Weinberg currently serves as a board member of diverse organizations, including the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts; Storm King Art Center; and the Colby College Museum of Art.