Resurrection at the Whitney

Back in May I posted about the grand opening of the new Whitney Museum here in New York City. I finally visited the Whitney since that post, and am pleased to say that I enjoyed it immensely, much more than I expected to. Of course, it helped that I was accompanied by my dear friend Fred Hatt, who was also seeing the new Whitney for the first time. Fred is a fantastic museum buddy 🙂

Much of the new Whitney experience, for New York museum regulars, is seeing “old friends” hanging on display in their spanking new home. The galleries are crisp, uncluttered, flooded with clean, nuanced light.

This de Kooning is one of the old friends from the original Whitney on the upper east side. It’s looking mighty fine in its new downtown digs:

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But it was in the 8th floor gallery where I was momentarily awestruck by a painting I don’t recall ever seeing before. As Fred and I strolled around leisurely, taking in the surroundings, I stopped in my tracks in front of this striking piece and thought, “Whoa”. Heavily abstracted paintings don’t usually make me go “whoa”, but this one sure did. Here is a photo I took of Resurrection by John Covert. And click here for the artwork page of this piece on the Whitney Museum website. My picture includes the frame which I think presents the painting even better.

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The wall text offered no background description, only that the work was created in 1916 using oil, gesso, and fabric on plywood. In person, it is absolutely luminous and magnetic. It thoroughly owns that corner of the gallery in a way I can’t describe. Fred and I studied it for a while and agreed that Covert’s modernist, avant-garde depiction of Christ’s resurrection was like no other we’d seen. Note the stony shapes of a tomb, the rising shape in the center, and that spot of red, presumably the blood of Christ, strategically placed to draw the eye. The entire composition works magnificently. But of course, no photograph can really do it justice.

Covert’s painting of this subject also reminds me of a comment exchange I had with Bill MacDonald here on Museworthy. On my blog post for Easter this year, he and I wondered about the strange lack of effective and powerful art renderings of the Resurrection. It’s rare that a modernist painter outdoes Renaissance or Baroque masters on a Biblical event, but Covert may just have done so in this case. I welcome thoughts from readers, so feel free to share!

I looked up John Covert on the internet. He was a Pittsburgh-born American painter who trained and worked for years in the conservative academic style. Upon returning to the United States after studying abroad, Covert settled in New York City and started to break out of his traditionalist bubble. He became more receptive to the modernist and cubist influences that were shaking up the art world around him, and jumped on board. Covert befriended Marcel Duchamp and was one of the founding members of the Society of Independent Artists.

In my blog post from May I talked about how the new Whitney’s location in Manhattan’s meatpacking district was, in itself, central to the spirit of its new incarnation. Fred took this excellent photo from one of the museum’s many outdoor terraces, where visitors can take in the sweeping views that extend from the Hudson River and New Jersey, lower Manhattan and the Freedom Tower, midtown, and everything in between. The patio with the colorful seating is another level of the Whitney, the trees indicate the High Line, and down below on the left there’s a sign that’s hard to read. It says “Weichsel Beef”. Hey it is still the “meatpacking district” after all. And there you have the epitome of urban juxtaposition and invading entities; a beef wholesaler adjoining a $422 million art museum. Welcome to New York 🙂

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11 thoughts on “Resurrection at the Whitney

  1. johndrob says:

    If you don’t like crowds, just don’t visit the Whitney on a weekend in the Summer. When I went (pretty sure it was a Summer Sunday), it seemed like there were thousands of people milling about – and it really affects my museum experience to have so many people and so much noise when I’m looking at art. (But maybe I’m just a snob…)

    • artmodel says:

      johndrob,

      You’re not a snob! The weekend museum crowds are intense, no question about it. I went to the Whitney on a weekday and it was still crowded. But the most crowded museum in New York, and the loudest, is MoMA in my opinion.

      Thanks for commenting!

      Claudia

  2. Dave Rudin says:

    Forget about art and museums for now, Claudia. How about those amazin’ Mets???!!!

    • artmodel says:

      Dave,

      As I type this comment the Mets are on the verge of being swept by the Pirates. So not very “amazin'” right now. But it’s a roller-coaster of a season. September will be exciting!

      Claudia

      • Dave Rudin says:

        Indeed it should be!

        And thanks for the reminder about the new Whitney. I have not been to either location – new or old – for ages. (Of course, the “old” location was once the newer one, as the original Whitney was down on 8th Street where, I believe, the New York Studio School now is.)

        I also can’t wait for the International Center of Photography to reopen down on the Bowery. 🙂

  3. dougrogers says:

    Stunning. And oddly I don’t need to know it’s about Christ to appreciate the idea. But the triangle/pyramid in the foreground composition ally bothers me. Is there something it’s supposed to represent that it is an idea so prominently presented?

    • artmodel says:

      doug,

      My Mom said the same thing! I personally don’t mind the pyramid shape in the foreground, but I too am stumped as to what it’s intended to represent. Just some wild guesses: light? angel? burial cloth?

      Thanks for your comments!

      Claudia

  4. Bill says:

    You remembered that conversation — I’m kind of flattered. It scares me a little to think that other people may actually be paying attention to what I’m saying — maybe I should be a little more circumspect on social media 🙂

    Total coincidence — I don’t read a lot of theology/religion books, but I’ve been working my way through a book by James Tabor on early Christianity — and tonight I hit the section on the Resurrection. And Tabor made a point about two views on the topic: a Mark/Matthew view that was more visionary in nature, and a Luke/John view that was more flesh-and-blood oriented.

    If we consier the former — maybe that’s why it’s been difficult to depict in a representational fashion. It would make sense that an abstract approach could express something that is essentially ineffable.

    I think. Maybe.

    • artmodel says:

      Bill,

      I can’t speak for Facebook or other social media, but I can say that there’s no need to be circumspect here on Museworthy! And you’d be surprised how many reader comments I remember 🙂

      Great points about the differences in the Gospel accounts. I’ve always been partial to John myself. And yes I can definitely see how the abstract genre is well-suited to a miraculous event like the resurrection. Covert created an amazing portrayal. I’m obsessed with it now!

      Thanks so much for your comments, Bill.

      Claudia

  5. therese b.l. says:

    I like FRED HATT s work, thanks a lot for this link

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