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Drawn entirely from the Whitney Museum of American Art’s collection, America Is Hard to See takes the inauguration of the Museum’s new building as an opportunity to reexamine the history of art in the United States from the beginning of the twentieth century to the present. Comprising more than six hundred works, the exhibition elaborates the themes, ideas, beliefs, and passions that have galvanized American artists in their struggle to work within and against established conventions, often directly engaging their political and social contexts. Numerous pieces that have rarely, if ever, been shown appear alongside beloved icons in a conscious effort to unsettle assumptions about the American art canon.
The title, America Is Hard to See, comes from a poem by Robert Frost and a political documentary by Emile de Antonio. Metaphorically, the title seeks to celebrate the ever-changing perspectives of artists and their capacity to develop visual forms that respond to the culture of the United States. It also underscores the difficulty of neatly defining the country’s ethos and inhabitants, a challenge that lies at the heart of the Museum’s commitment to and continually evolving understanding of American art.
Organized chronologically, the exhibition’s narrative is divided into twenty- three thematic “chapters” installed throughout the building. These sections revisit and revise established tropes while forging new categories and even expanding the definition of who counts as an American artist. Indeed, each chapter takes its name not from a movement or style but from the title of a work that evokes the section’s animating impulse. Works of art across all mediums are displayed together, acknowledging the ways in which artists have engaged various modes of production and broken the boundaries between them.
America Is Hard to See reflects the Whitney’s distinct record of acquisitions and exhibitions, which constitutes a kind of collective memory—one that represents a range of individual, sometimes conflicting, attitudes toward what American art might be or mean or do at any given moment. By simultaneously mining and questioning our past, we do not arrive at a comprehensive survey or tidy summation, but rather at a critical new beginning: the first of many stories still to tell.
America Is Hard to See is organized by a team of Whitney curators, led by Donna De Salvo, Chief Curator and Deputy Director for Programs, including Carter E. Foster, Steven and Ann Ames Curator of Drawing; Dana Miller, Curator of the Permanent Collection; and Scott Rothkopf, Nancy and Steve Crown Family Curator and Associate Director of Programs; with Jane Panetta, Assistant Curator; Catherine Taft, Assistant Curator; and Mia Curran, Curatorial Assistant.
Please note: Chapters on Floor 8—Forms Abstracted; Machine Ornament; and Music, Pink and Blue—are no longer on view.
Thomas Hart Benton
Patrick Henry Bruce
Bernarda Bryson Shahn
Mary Ellen Bute
John Steuart Curry
Emma Lu Davis
Willem de Kooning
Walter De Maria
Mark di Suvero
Guy Pène Du Bois
Kevin Jerome Everson
John B. Flannagan
LaToya Ruby Frazier
Gerald K. Geerlings
Victoria Hutson Huntley
William H. Johnson
Philip Mallory Jones
Sister Corita Kent
Liz Magic Laser
Sylvia Plimack Mangold
Jose Clemente Orozco
Raphael Montañez Ortiz
Akosua Adoma Owusu
Nam June Paik
I. Rice Pereira
Nancy Elizabeth Prophet
R. H. Quaytman
Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney
Hale Aspacio Woodruff
“2015 was the Year of the Whitney…the cross-disciplinary approach taken by America Is Hard to See and Collected by Thea Westreich Wagner and Ethan Wagner, is becoming the model for a new generation of curators.”
“2015 belonged to the Whitney…both my museum—and my show—of the year.”
—Adrian Searle in The Guardian
"Best of 2015: Our Top 20 NYC Art Shows"
"The museum’s inaugural show in its new building, America Is Hard to See, tells a different story of modern and contemporary American art than the lily-white version we’re used to"
—The New Yorker
Interview: Curator Scott Rothkopf speaks about America Is Hard to See on Slate's Culture Gabfest
"New Whitney Museum Signifies a Changing New York Art Scene"
—The New York Times
"With its abundantly sumptuous holdings, the museum tells us how we got where we are, offering a teeming lineage of the art of this country"
"Curators at the Whitney Museum of American Art discuss their largest exhibition to date at their new downtown location, designed by architect Renzo Piano"
—The Wall Street Journal
"The exhibition will include plenty of crowd-pleasers—Hopper, O’Keeffe, Calder’s “Circus”—but, with the Whitney’s brilliant chief curator, Donna De Salvo, at the helm, expect major twists in the conventional art-historical plot."
—The New Yorker
"The Whitney Museum, Soon to Open Its New Home, Searches for American Identity"
—The New York Times
"One of this year's most anticipated art world events"