Whitney Museum

Ana B. Remos

This summer David Hockney and Robert Irwin take over the Whitney

It is high noon and the relentless summer sun feels like it could melt the asphalt. We find refuge inside one of New York’s most iconic museums. Located at 945 Madison Avenue, The Whitney Museum of American Art invites art lovers to view its collection of more than 18,000 works, and a selection of temporary exhibits and site-specific installations that make it an authority in American Art.

This summer Robert Irwin’s seminal large-scale installation, Scrim Veil-Black rectangle-Natural light, Whitney Museum of American Art (1977), returns to the museum after 36 years. It made its debut in 1977, when the artist took over the fourth floor gallery to play with light and space.

ROBERT IRWIN. Scrim Veil-Natural Light, Whitney Museum of American Art, 1977
ROBERT IRWIN. Scrim Veil-Natural Light, Whitney Museum of American Art, 1977.

The beauty of this installation lays in its simplicity: a polyester scrim extends from the ceiling to exactly 5 feet 6 inches from the floor; a black line and an aluminum beam are the other elements that interact with the light that filters from the room’s emblematic Cyclops window. The most striking impression is the feeling of emptiness one experiences when entering the gallery. Soon we are immersed in the piece and give ourselves to reflective meditation.

Curator Donna De Salvo, Chief Deputy Director of Programming at the Whitney, wanted to rescue the installation as it was presented years ago; the only difference is, curiously, the lighting. In 1977 it was shown in early spring. Irwin, who doesn’t dwell in the past, admits: “I always thought this was a good work. It taught me a lot of things”.

The exhibition is accompanied by a digital version of the catalog published by the Museum in 1977, which includes an ambitious combination of images, project plans and theoretical texts written by the artist, as well as bibliography and information about the original exhibit.

DAVID HOCKNEY. The Jugglers, 2012
DAVID HOCKNEY. The Jugglers, 2012.

From the subtle elegance of Irwin’s recreation of light and space, we turn our attention to the premiere of David Hockney’s first video installation, The Juggler, also on view at the Whitney this summer. Filmed using 18 fixed cameras; it presents a group of jugglers as they walk in a procession through a network of 18 screens. The figures dressed in black, toss brightly colored objects into the air against a pink wall and blue floor. A lively soundtrack further energizes this vibrant visual composition. It is a testament to Hockney’s preoccupation with how technology affects the outcome of a work of art.

As the sun sets over Manhattan, inside museum walls Irwin’s lights and Hockney’s colors continue to shine into the night.


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