Drawn entirely from the Whitney Museum of American Art’s collection, America Is Hard to Seetakes 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 Seereflects 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.
Berenice Abbott Michele Abeles Vito Acconci Ansel Adams Robert Adams Carl Andre Kenneth Anger Eleanor Antin Diane Arbus Cory Arcangel David Armstrong Richard Artschwager Ruth Asawa Asco Charles Atlas Lutz Bacher Peggy Bacon Jo Baer Alex Bag Malcolm Bailey Lamar Baker John Baldessari Alvin Baltrop Lewis Baltz Matthew Barney Richmond Barthé Jean-Michel Basquiat Romare Bearden Cecil Beaton Robert Beavers Robert Bechtle Ericka Beckman Larry Bell George Bellows Lynda Benglis Thomas Hart Benton Wallace Berman Bernadette Corporation Judith Bernstein Huma Bhabha David Bienstock Henry Billings Ilse Bing Dara Birnbaum Nayland Blake Oscar Bluemner Peter Blume Lee Bontecou Jonathan Borofsky Louise Bourgeois Margaret Bourke-White Carol Bove Mark Bradford Stan Brakhage Robert Breer Patrick Henry Bruce Bernarda Bryson Shahn Charles Burchfield Jacob Burck Chris Burden Scott Burton Mary Ellen Bute Paul Cadmus John Cage Alexander Calder Cameron Luis Camnitzer Peter Campus James Castle Elizabeth Catlett Maurizio Cattelan Vija Celmins John Chamberlain Paul Chan Sarah Charlesworth Ayoka Chenzira Chryssa Larry Clark Chuck Close Sue Coe Anne Collier Bruce Conner Joseph Cornell Eldzier Cortor Miguel Covarrubias John Covert Ralston Crawford E.E. Cummings Imogen Cunningham John Currin John Steuart Curry Allan D’Arcangelo James Daugherty Emma Lu Davis Stuart Davis Willem de Kooning Walter De Maria Roy DeCarava Jay DeFeo Charles Demuth Maya Deren Mark di Suvero Jim Dine Arthur Dove Thomas Downing Elsie Driggs Guy Pène Du Bois Carroll Dunham Sam Durant Jimmie Durham Mabel Dwight William Eggleston Nicole Eisenman Wharton Esherick Walker Evans Kevin Jerome Everson Loretta Fahrenholz Andreas Feininger Lyonel Feininger Duncan Ferguson Rafael Ferrer Paul Fiene Morgan Fisher John B. Flannagan Hollis Frampton Robert Frank Andrea Fraser LaToya Ruby Frazier Hermine Freed Jared French Lee Friedlander Brian Frye Charles Gaines Anna Gaskell GCC Gerald K. Geerlings Hugo Gellert Sandra Gibson Luis Gispert William Glackens Milton Glaser Robert Gober Nan Goldin Wayne Gonzales Felix Gonzalez-Torres Boris Gorelick Arshile Gorky Dan Graham William Gropper Nancy Grossman George Grosz Louis Guglielmi Philip Guston Walter Gutman Wade Guyton Hans Haacke Peter Halley David Hammons Keith Haring Rachel Harrison Marsden Hartley David Hartt David Haxton Sharon Hayes Al Held Robert Henri Carmen Herrera Eva Hesse Lewis Hine Nancy Holt Jenny Holzer Edward Hopper Roni Horn Earl Horter Alex Hubbard Peter Hujar Richard Hunt Victoria Hutson Huntley Robert Indiana Abraham Jacobs Ulysses Jenkins Neil Jenney Candy Jernigan Jess Jasper Johns Rashid Johnson Ray Johnson William H. Johnson Joan Jonas Joe Jones Philip Mallory Jones Michael Joo Donald Judd Alex Katz On Kawara Mike Kelley Ellsworth Kelly Sister Corita Kent Karen Kilimnik William Klein Franz Kline Josh Kline Jeff Koons Lee Krasner Barbara Kruger Yasuo Kuniyoshi Yayoi Kusama Suzanne Lacy David Lamelas Dorothea Lange Liz Magic Laser Robert Laurent Louise Lawler Jacob Lawrence An-My Lê William Leavitt Zoe Leonard Alfred Leslie Howard Lester Sherrie Levine Herschel Levit Helen Levitt Norman Lewis Sol LeWitt Roy Lichtenstein Glenn Ligon Kalup Linzy Alvin Loving Lee Lozano Louis Lozowick George Luks Helen Lundeberg Len Lye Danny Lyon Stanton Macdonald-Wright Tala Madani Man Ray Sylvia Plimack Mangold Robert Mapplethorpe Christian Marclay Brice Marden Marisol Kyra Markham Reginald Marsh Agnes Martin Fletcher Martin Gordon Matta-Clark Cynthia Maughan Keith Mayerson Paul McCarthy John McCracken Adam McEwen John McLaughlin Josephine Meckseper Jonas Mekas Ana Mendieta Sam Middleton Aleksandra Mir Joan Mitchell Toyo Miyatake Lisette Model Donald Moffett Abelardo Morell Robert Morris Mark Morrisroe Gerald Murphy Elizabeth Murray Julie Murray Reuben Nakian Bruce Nauman Alice Neel Louise Nevelson Barnett Newman Isamu Noguchi David Novros Jim Nutt Chiura Obata Georgia O’Keeffe Claes Oldenburg Catherine Opie Jose Clemente Orozco Raphael Montañez Ortiz Alfonso Ossorio Tony Oursler Bill Owens Akosua Adoma Owusu Nam June Paik Gordon Parks Agnes Pelton I. Rice Pereira Raymond Pettibon Elizabeth Peyton Paul Pfeiffer Howardena Pindell Adrian Piper Horace Pippin Lari Pittman Jackson Pollock Liliana Porter Richard Pousette-Dart Richard Prince Nancy Elizabeth Prophet Noah Purifoy R. H. Quaytman Walid Raad Yvonne Rainer Christina Ramberg Robert Rauschenberg Charles Ray Luis Recoder Jeffrey Reed Robert Reed Earl Reiback Ad Reinhardt Hans Richter Faith Ringgold Dorothea Rockburne James Rosenquist Martha Rosler Theodore Roszak Susan Rothenberg Mark Rothko Edward Ruscha Morgan Russell Betye Saar David Salle Lucas Samaras Jacolby Satterwhite Peter Saul Matt Saunders Morton Schamberg Carolee Schneemann Dana Schutz Dread Scott George Segal Richard Serra Ben Shahn Joel Shapiro Paul Sharits Charles Sheeler Cindy Sherman Roger Shimomura Everett Shinn Amy Sillman Laurie Simmons Taryn Simon Lorna Simpson John Sloan David Smith Jack Smith Kiki Smith Tony Smith Robert Smithson Keith Sonnier Edward Steichen Ralph Steiner Frank Stella Joseph Stella Harry Sternberg Hedda Sterne Florine Stettheimer May Stevens Alfred Stieglitz John Storrs Michelle Stuart Sturtevant Wayne Thiebaud Alma Thomas Rirkrit Tiravanija George Tooker Bill Traylor Ryan Trecartin Anne Truitt Wu Tsang Richard Tuttle Cy Twombly Stan VanDerBeek Kara Walker Kelley Walker Carl Walters Andy Warhol Max Weber Weegee William Wegman Lawrence Weiner Tom Wesselmann H.C. Westermann Charles White Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney Jack Whitten Hannah Wilke Christopher Williams Sue Williams Fred Wilson Garry Winogrand William Winter Karl Wirsum David Wojnarowicz Jordan Wolfson Martin Wong Grant Wood Francesca Woodman Hale Aspacio Woodruff Christopher Wool Andrew Wyeth William Zorach
“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.” —Hyperallergic
“2015 belonged to the Whitney…both my museum—and my show—of the year.” —Adrian Searle in The Guardian
"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