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America Is Hard to See
May 1–Sept 27, 2015

Running People at 2,616,216 (1978–79) by Jonathan Borofsky installed on the West Ambulatory, 5th floor, the inaugural exhibition, America Is Hard to See (May 1–September 27, 2015). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. Photograph © Nic Lehoux

Running People at 2,616,216 (1978–79) by Jonathan Borofsky installed on the West Ambulatory, 5th floor, the inaugural exhibition, America Is Hard to See (May 1–September 27, 2015). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. Photograph © Nic Lehoux

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.

The majority of the exhibition will be on view through September 27, 2015, but some floors will close on a staggered schedule before and after that date.

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. 

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Robert Henri (1865-1929), <i>Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney</i>, 1916. Oil on canvas, 49 15/16 × 72 in. (126.8 × 182.9 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; gift of Flora Whitney Miller 86.70.3.
Eight West Eighth
Floor 1
Marsden Hartley (1877-1943), Painting, Number 5, 1914-15. Oil on linen, 39 1/4 × 32 in. (99.7 × 81.3 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; gift of an anonymous donor 58.65   
Forms Abstracted
Floor 8
Georgia O'Keeffe (1887-1986), Music, Pink and Blue No. 2, 1918. Oil on canvas, 35 × 29 15/16 in. (88.9 × 76 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; gift of Emily Fisher Landau in honor of Tom Armstrong 91.90 © 2015 Georgia O’Keeffe Museum/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Music, Pink and Blue
Floor 8
Charles Demuth (1883-1935), <i>My Egypt</i>, 1927. Oil, fabricated chalk, and graphite pencil on composition board, 35 15/16 × 30 in. (91.3 × 76.2 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase, with funds from Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney 31.172
Machine Ornament
Floor 8
Chiura Obata (1885-1975), <i>Evening Glow of Yosemite Fall</i>, 1930. Woodblock print: sheet, 17 7/8 × 13 1/8 in. (45.4 × 33.3 cm); image, 15 7/16 × 10 7/8 in. (39.2 × 27.6 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; gift of Gyo Obata  2014.280 © Gyo Obata
Breaking the Prairie
Floor 7
Edward Hopper (1882-1967), Early Sunday Morning, 1930. Oil on canvas, 35 3/16 × 60 1/4 in. (89.4 × 153 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase, with funds from Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney 31.426 © Heirs of Josephine N. Hopper, licensed by the Whitney Museum of American Art
Rose Castle
Floor 7
Mary Ellen Bute (1906-1983), <i>Synchromy No. 4: Escape</i>, 1937-1938. 16mm film, color, sound, 4 min. Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase, with funds from the Film, Video, and New Media Committee 2014.101 © Estate of Cecilie Starr
Free Radicals
Floor 7
Alexander Calder (1898-1976), Lion Tamer, Lion and Cage from Calder’s Circus, 1926-31. Wire, wood, metal, cloth, yarn, paper, cardboard, leather, string, rubber tubing, corks, buttons, rhinestones, pipe cleaners, and bottle caps, 54 × 94 1/4 × 94 1/4 in. (137.2 × 239.4 × 239.4 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase, with funds from a public fundraising campaign in May 1982. One half the funds were contributed by the Robert Wood Johnson Jr. Charitable Trust. Additional major donations were given by The Lauder Foundation; the Robert Lehman Foundation, Inc.; the Howard and Jean Lipman Foundation, Inc.; an anonymous donor; The T. M. Evans Foundation, Inc.; MacAndrews & Forbes Group, Incorporated; the DeWitt Wallace Fund, Inc.; Martin and Agneta Gruss; Anne Phillips; Mr. and Mrs. Laurance S. Rockefeller; the Simon Foundation, Inc.; Marylou Whitney; Bankers Trust Company; Mr. and Mrs. Kenneth N. Dayton; Joel and Anne Ehrenkranz; Irvin and Kenneth Feld; Flora Whitney Miller. More than 500 individuals from 26 states and abroad also contributed to the campaign. 83.36.34.1a-f © 2015 The Calder Foundation, New York / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
The Circus
Floor 7
Alice Neel (1900-1984), <i>Pat Whalen</i>, 1935. Oil, ink, and newspaper on canvas: 27 1/8 × 23 1/8 in. (68.9 × 58.7 cm); image, 26 3/4 × 22 7/8 in. (67.9 × 58.1 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; gift of Dr. Hartley Neel 81.12  © The Estate of Alice Neel; Courtesy David Zwirner, New York/London
Fighting with All Our Might
Floor 7
Willem de Kooning (1904-1997), <i>Woman and Bicycle</i>, 1952-53. Oil, enamel, and charcoal on linen, 76 1/2 × 49 1/8 in. (194.3 × 124.8 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase 55.35  © 2015 The Willem de Kooning Foundation/Artists Rights Society(ARS), New York 
New York, N.Y., 1955
Floor 7
Ellsworth Kelly (b. 1923), <i>Atlantic</i>, 1956. Oil on canvas, 80 1/8 × 115 5/16 in. (203.5 × 292.9 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase 57.9a-b © Ellsworth Kelly
White Target
Floor 6
Jay DeFeo (1929-1989), <i>The Rose</i>, 1958-66. Oil with wood and mica on canvas, 128 7/8 × 92 1/4 × 11 in. (327.3 × 234.3 × 27.9 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; gift of The Jay DeFeo Trust and purchase, with funds from the Contemporary Painting and Sculpture Committee and the Judith Rothschild Foundation 95.170  © 2015 The Jay DeFeo Trust/Artists Rights Society(ARS), New York
Scotch Tape
Floor 6
Allan D'Arcangelo (1930-1998), <i>Madonna and Child</i>, 1963. Acrylic and gesso on canvas, 68 1/2 × 60 1/8 in. (174 × 152.7 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase, with funds from the Painting and Sculpture Committee 2013.2 Art© Estate of Allan D'Arcangelo, Licensed by VAGA, New York
Large Trademark
Floor 6
Bruce Nauman (b. 1941), <i>Raw War</i>, 1971. Lithograph: sheet, 22 7/16 × 28 3/16 in. (57 × 71.6 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase, with funds from the Print Committee 85.9  © 2015 Bruce Nauman/Artists Rights Society(ARS), New York
Raw War
Floor 6
Eva Hesse (1936-1970), <i>No title</i>, 1969-70. Latex, rope, string, and wire, dimensions variable. Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase, with funds from Eli and Edythe L. Broad, the Mrs. Percy Uris Purchase Fund, and the Painting and Sculpture Committee 88.17a-b © The Estate of Eva Hesse; courtesy Hauser & Wirth
Rational Irrationalism
Floor 6
Neil Jenney (b.1945), <i>Threat and Sanctuary</i>, 1969. Oil on canvas, with wood frame, 61 × 123 1/4 × 3 1/4 in. (154.9 × 313.1 × 8.3 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; gift from the Emily Fisher Landau Collection 2012.175a-b © Neil Jenney
Threat and Sanctuary
Floor 5
Hannah Wilke (1940-1993), <i>S.O.S. Starification Object Series (Curlers)</i>, 1974. Gelatin silver print: sheet, 40 × 27 in. (101.6 × 68.6 cm); image, 40 × 27 in. (101.6 × 68.6 cm); mount (board), 40 × 27 × 1/16 in. (101.6 × 68.6 × 0.2 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase, with funds from the Photography Committee and partial gift of Marsie, Emanuelle, Damon and Andrew Scharlatt 2005.33  Photograph ©Marsie, Emanuelle, Damon and Andrew Scharlatt, Hannah Wilke Collection & Archive, Los Angeles, Licensed by VAGA, New York
Learn Where the Meat Comes From
Floor 5
Barbara Kruger (b. 1945), <i>Untitled (We Don't Need Another Hero)</i>, 1987. Photoscreenprint on vinyl, 108 7/8 × 209 3/16 × 2 1/2 in. (276.5 × 531.3 × 6.4 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; gift from the Emily Fisher Landau Collection 2012.180 © Barbara Kruger, courtesy: Mary Boone Gallery, New York
Racing Thoughts
Floor 5
Nan Goldin (b. 1953), details of The Ballad of Sexual Dependency (from left to right, per row): Cookie with me after I was punched, Baltimore, MD., 1986; David Wojnarowicz at home, NYC 1990; Brian on the phone, New York City, 1981; Gilles and Gotscho embracing, Paris 1992; Cookie at Tin Pan Alley, New York City, 1983; French Chris on the convertible, New York City, 1979, 1979-96. Slide installation with 690 35mm color slides, sound, 45 min. looped. Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase, with funds from The Charles Engelhard Foundation, the Mrs. Percy Uris Bequest, the Painting and Sculpture Committee and the Photography Committee  92.127  © Nan Goldin 
Love Letter From The War Front
Floor 5
Catherine Opie (b. 1961), <i>Self-Portrait/Cutting</i>, 1993. Chromogenic print: image,39 × 28 3/8 in. (99.1 × 72.1 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase, with funds from the Photography Committee 94.64 © Catherine Opie; Courtesy Regen Projects, Los Angeles
Guarded View
Floor 5
R. H. Quaytman (b. 1961), <i>Distracting Distance, Chapter 16</i>, 2010. Screenprint and gesso on wood, 24 5/8 × 39 7/8 in. (62.5 × 101.3 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Purchase, with funds from the Painting and Sculpture Committee  2010.54 © R. H. Quaytman
Distracting Distance
Floor 5
Edward Ruscha (b. 1937), <i>The Old Tool & Die Building</i>, 2004. Acrylic and colored pencil on canvas, 52 1/8 × 116 1/8 in. (132.4 × 295 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; gift of The American Contemporary Art Foundation, Inc., Leonard A. Lauder, President 2005.135  © Ed Ruscha
Course of Empire
Floor 5
Alex Bag (b. 1969), <i>Untitled (Spring 94)</i>, 1994. Video, color, sound, 28 min. Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; gift of Eileen and Michael Cohen  2010.198 © Alex Bag
Get Rid of Yourself
Floor 5

Screenings

Nayland Blake (b. 1960), still from Negative Bunny, 1994. Video, color, sound, 30 min. looped. Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; gift of Lin Lougheed  2014.268 © Nayland Blake 1994; image courtesy Matthew Marks Gallery, New York
America Is Hard to See: Film & Video Screenings
11 AM–12:45 PM
Mike Kelley (1954-2012), still from Day Is Done, 2005-2006. Video, color, sound; 169 min. Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase, with funds from Randy Slifka  2009.128 © Estate of Mike Kelley; Courtesy Electronic Arts Intermix (EAI), New York
America Is Hard to See: Film & Video Screenings
2–4:50 PM
Matt Saunders (b. 1975), still from Century Rolls, 2012. Video, color; 10:45 min. Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase, with funds from the Film, Video, and New Media Committee 2013.81 © 2015 Matt Saunders
America Is Hard to See: Film & Video Screenings
8–9 PM
Maya Deren (1917-1961), still from At Land, 1944. 16mm film, black-and-white, silent, 15 min. Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase, with funds from the Film, Video, and New Media Committee  2015.45 © Estate of Maya Deren; image courtesy Anthology Film Archives
America Is Hard to See: Film & Video Screenings
11 AM–12:40 PM
Yvonne Rainer (b. 1934), still from Five Easy Pieces, 1966-69. 8mm and 16mm film transferred to video, black-and-white, silent; 48 min. Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase, with funds from Joanne Leonhardt Cassullo in honor of Ron Clark and The Independent Study Program  2011.91 © Yvonne Rainer; courtesy Video Data Bank, www.vdb.org
America Is Hard to See: Film & Video Screenings
3–5:45 PM
Howardena Pindell (b. 1943), still from Free, White and 21, 1980. Video, color, sound; 12:15 min. Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase, with funds from the Film, Video, and New Media Committee  2015.35 © Howardena Pindell
America Is Hard to See: Film & Video Screenings
6–7 PM
Kevin Jerome Everson (b. 1965), still from Act One: Betty and the Candle, 2010. 16mm film transferred to video, black-and-white, silent, 11:25 min. Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase, with funds from the Film, Video, and New Media Committee  2012.17 © Kevin Jerome Everson; courtesy the artist, Tribolite-Arts DAC, and Picture Palace Pictures
America Is Hard to See: Film & Video Screenings
11 AM–12:15 PM
Liz Magic Laser (b. 1981), still from I Feel Your Pain, 2011. Video, color, sound; 180 min., with poster. Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase, with funds from Joanne Leonhardt Cassullo and The Dorothea L. Leonhardt Foundation, Inc. in honor of Ron Clark, Director, Independent Study Program  2013.14 © Liz Magic Laser 2011. Performa Commission. Featuring Annie Fox and Rafael Jordan. Photograph by Yola Monakhov
America Is Hard to See: Film & Video Screenings
1–4 PM
Morgan Fisher (b. 1942), still from ( ), 2003. 16mm film, color, silent; 21 min. Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase, with funds from the Film, Video, and New Media Committee  2010.8 © Morgan Fisher and Galerie Daniel Bucholz, Cologne/Berlin
America Is Hard to See: Film & Video Screenings
5–5:30 PM
Carolee Schneemann (b. 1939), still from Meat Joy, 1964. 16mm film transferred to video, color, sound; 10:35 min. Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase, with funds from Randy Slifka  2009.126 © 2009 Carolee Schneemann / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Courtesy Electronic Arts Intermix (EAI), New York
America Is Hard to See: Film & Video Screenings
11–11:30 AM
David Haxton (b. 1943), still from Cube and Room Drawings, 1976-77. 16mm film, color, silent; 15 min. Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; gift of the artist  2013.47 © David Haxton 1976-1977
America Is Hard to See: Film & Video Screenings
1–2:15 PM
Ericka Beckman (b. 1951), still from You The Better, 1983. 16mm film, color, sound; 30 min. Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase, with funds from the Film, Video, and New Media Committee © Ericka Beckman
America Is Hard to See: Film & Video Screenings
11 AM–2 PM
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Inaugural Exhibition Artists

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Photograph by Nic Lehoux
Member Events: Patron, Circle, Fellow, Sponsor, and Contemporaries members
7–8:30 PM
Nayland Blake (b. 1960), still from Negative Bunny, 1994. Video, color, sound, 30 min. looped. Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; gift of Lin Lougheed  2014.268 © Nayland Blake 1994; image courtesy Matthew Marks Gallery, New York
America Is Hard to See: Film & Video Screenings
11 AM–12:45 PM
Mike Kelley (1954-2012), still from Day Is Done, 2005-2006. Video, color, sound; 169 min. Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase, with funds from Randy Slifka  2009.128 © Estate of Mike Kelley; Courtesy Electronic Arts Intermix (EAI), New York
America Is Hard to See: Film & Video Screenings
2–4:50 PM
Matt Saunders (b. 1975), still from Century Rolls, 2012. Video, color; 10:45 min. Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase, with funds from the Film, Video, and New Media Committee 2013.81 © 2015 Matt Saunders
America Is Hard to See: Film & Video Screenings
8–9 PM
Maya Deren (1917-1961), still from At Land, 1944. 16mm film, black-and-white, silent, 15 min. Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase, with funds from the Film, Video, and New Media Committee  2015.45 © Estate of Maya Deren; image courtesy Anthology Film Archives
America Is Hard to See: Film & Video Screenings
11 AM–12:40 PM
Yvonne Rainer (b. 1934), still from Five Easy Pieces, 1966-69. 8mm and 16mm film transferred to video, black-and-white, silent; 48 min. Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase, with funds from Joanne Leonhardt Cassullo in honor of Ron Clark and The Independent Study Program  2011.91 © Yvonne Rainer; courtesy Video Data Bank, www.vdb.org
America Is Hard to See: Film & Video Screenings
3–5:45 PM
Howardena Pindell (b. 1943), still from Free, White and 21, 1980. Video, color, sound; 12:15 min. Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase, with funds from the Film, Video, and New Media Committee  2015.35 © Howardena Pindell
America Is Hard to See: Film & Video Screenings
6–7 PM
Kevin Jerome Everson (b. 1965), still from Act One: Betty and the Candle, 2010. 16mm film transferred to video, black-and-white, silent, 11:25 min. Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase, with funds from the Film, Video, and New Media Committee  2012.17 © Kevin Jerome Everson; courtesy the artist, Tribolite-Arts DAC, and Picture Palace Pictures
America Is Hard to See: Film & Video Screenings
11 AM–12:15 PM
Liz Magic Laser (b. 1981), still from I Feel Your Pain, 2011. Video, color, sound; 180 min., with poster. Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase, with funds from Joanne Leonhardt Cassullo and The Dorothea L. Leonhardt Foundation, Inc. in honor of Ron Clark, Director, Independent Study Program  2013.14 © Liz Magic Laser 2011. Performa Commission. Featuring Annie Fox and Rafael Jordan. Photograph by Yola Monakhov
America Is Hard to See: Film & Video Screenings
1–4 PM
PreviousNext

In the News

"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
Slate

"The Whitney Opens With a Winner"
Artnews

"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"
Hyperallergic

"Review: New Whitney Museum’s First Show, America Is Hard to See"
The New York Times

"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" 
Huffington Post