Narrator: Welcome to Whitney Museum. This exhibition presents a selection from a gift of contemporary artworks given by Thea Westreich Wagner and Ethan Wagner. The couple has been actively collecting contemporary art since the 1980s, and this exhibition demonstrates their adventurous and dedicated approach. Curator Elisabeth Sussman.

Elisabeth Sussman: We tried to take this gift and select from it related bodies of work that told some sort story, themes that have been of interests to artists over the last forty years or so.

Narrator: This opening room is a kind of overture, presenting some of those themes. The painting on this title wall is by Christopher Wool.

Thea Westreich Wagner: Of all the artists that I knew very early on, I would say that Christopher Wool was, by far, the most influential.

Narrator: Thea Westreich Wagner.

Thea Westreich Wagner: We traveled together. We looked at art together. What I learned from him became the paradigm for the rest of my life. When I met Ethan it was clear that that's exactly the way he engaged with things. It's been the same ever since.

Narrator: This process of encountering an artist and becoming deeply involved with his or her work has been very important in shaping this collection—though in complex ways.

Ethan Wagner: It's not like the studio visit provides a roadmap, to collective decisions, it's not that at all.

Narrator: Ethan Wagner.

Ethan Wagner: It's much more a diving in to the intentionality and the objects themselves. In the course of those visits with Christopher, we would invariably come out, we'd pick one, maybe to acquire, change it, go back to one, and then sooner or later find our way and make a selection. 

Thea Westreich Wagner: Both of us have been drawn to the notion of a new idea, of some sort of contribution to thinking that's new and that extends your understanding of art making practices and, in fact, of history, of politics, of literature. Art has that power, especially when you're lucky enough to engage directly with artists and to be, in a sense, in and out of studios, hanging out, learning, growing with the experience of a direct interaction with the artist him or herself.

Narrator: The American works in this exhibition will enter the Whitney’s collection. Those by European artists will go to the Centre Pompidou in Paris. All told, the gift included 850 works—a selection of which is on view here. Please enjoy the exhibition.


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