A Night At the Whitney

Last night was a truly wonderful New York kind of night.  It was my last chance to hang out with Kirk for a while, and though I had mentioned having a quiet evening of packing and cleaning, when he mentioned the possibility of going to the Whitney (which is where he currently works, and is open late on Saturday nights) I jumped at it.

The opportunity to be on the terrace at sunset, looking down on New York city seemed like just what I needed.  We met up at the Barnes and Noble downtown, had dinner at the Hollywood Diner and walked over to the Whitney.  I was less excited about the thought of touring the Whitney than I might have been before I toured the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  Maybe I had "museum fatigue" if that's even a thing, but if so, the actual experience of The Whitney Museum of American Art has cured me.

It was founded in 1931 by Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, an exceedingly wealthy society lady and patron of the arts.  She had offered her collection of contemporary art to the Met, only to have it rejected, as they weren't interested in 20th century art.  So, she founded her own museum, which flourished under her guardianship, and continued to flourish after her death in 1942.  It was temporarily closed in 2014 until it reopened this year in its current home.  Like a lot of museums, the Whitney's building is as much a work of art as the pieces it displays, and the view from the terrace is literally breathtaking.

Stepping out onto the terrace, seven flights up, onto a jutting look out, was so unsteadying and exhilarating.  To look in one direction and see the harbor and the ships, to look at the Statue of Liberty, turn and look at The Empire State Building, The Chrysler Building...to be right in the center of these icons of New York... it was incredible.  You could turn left to right and see nothing but the city and its colored lights below, like jewels... the glamorous hotel next to us, with it's myriad of open hotel rooms that you could look right into as well as the ball room with its enormous chandelier...

It made me feel like a part of something miraculous and man made and distinctly American.  Sure I was a tiny little piece of it, but I was a piece, nonetheless.  I was hit with all of these cultural touchtones that make up the thoughts and feelings and dreams I have had about this city since I was a kid... snatches of music from Guys and Dolls, thoughts of ladies swathed in black furs heading into the theatre from the snow, Billie Holiday, taxicabs, Friends, the many disgusting little sweatbox convenience stores that sell sandwich meats and so therefore feel perfectly justified in calling themselves delis... all of it, the good and the bad mingled together to make this incredible picture of the city.  This city that I am now a part of.

After a while we stepped back inside, as the view became a little too disorienting, and it was time to return to the art.  

The collection is phenomenal, and while the museum is well known for its collection of Edward Hopper pieces, I have to say I found them to be some of the least exciting pieces in the collection, especially compared to the work of Thomas Hart Benton.  Benton is my favorite painter.  He'd been dismissed for awhile as sentimental Americana, but it's some of those very qualities that I love about his work.  He captures both the beauty and the weariness of people.  He captures the excitement and glamor of human diversions, but doesn't dismiss its seamier aspects.  

One of his greatest works was recently reconstructed at the Met, and it was by far my favorite exhibit there, when I visited last February.

At The Whitney, they have what is currently my favorite piece of art.  It's called Poker Night, and was inspired by Streetcar Named Desire.  It exemplifies what I love about Bennet's work.

There were some other wonderful works, most of them on the 2nd floor, which focused on the entertainments people use to make their lives seem a little lighter, and highlighted both the grimy and the gorgeous at once.  

The night continued with a walk on the High Line (part of a discontinued train line which is elevated above the city, and should not be missed on any trip to New York city) and finished with a piece of the Black Forest Cheesecake at Empire Diner , which is a beautiful art deco restaurant in Chelsea, founded by Chef Amanda Freitag.  

On the walk to the subway I snapped a couple pics that glimpse at some of the overlooked beauty that is everywhere in New York...

All in all, it was a great New York night, and it should more than hold me over while I'm upstate.