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:
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.
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 :-)