Whitney Museum of American Art
945 Madison Ave. at 75th St.
Wednesday - Sunday through November 28, $12-$18 (pay-what-you-wish Fridays 6:00 - 9:00)
Since the late 1990s, Washington-born photographer Lee Friedlander has been taking pictures out rental-car windows using his Hasselblad Superwide as he drove through most of the fifty states. That extensive road trip is now documented in a thrilling exhibition at the Whitney, “America by Car” (through November 28), comprising 192 fifteen inches by fifteen inches square black-and-white images closely arranged in two rows in the museum’s mezzanine level. Identified only by city and/or state and year, the photos are packed with visual information yet work on their own as abstract geometric patterns, with the steering wheel, side and rearview mirrors, door handles, windows, and other automobile elements playing a part in Friedlander’s gorgeous framing. The show is arranged by subject matter, including shots of people, churches, stop signs, houses, industrial areas, trees, ice-cream stores, empty highways, and other cars, combining to form a snapshot of a primarily timeless America. Friedlander, now seventy-six, sometimes shows himself in the mirrors while other times uses them as a counterpoint to what can be seen through the front window, combining past, present, and future, the rearview showing where we’ve been, the inside of the car representing the here and now, and the road ahead outlining where we’re going, as individuals and as a country. He even gets fancy in one Magritte-like shot in which he lines up the rearview mirror with a tree outside the window, the mirror containing the trunk of another tree that stands in for the trunk of the tree right outside. It is almost impossible to identify where the vast majority of photos were taken, making this a display of contemporary America as a whole, not of individual states. “America by Car” is best seen in two ways: First, walk down the line of photos as if you were on your own road trip, looking out the window of your car as you traverse the country. Then circle back around and enjoy each photo as unique works of art, their architectural and, at times, painterly qualities beautiful in their own right.
Also at the Whitney
In the Anne & Joel Ehrenkranz Gallery on the first floor, Sara VanDerBeek takes another view of America in “To Think of Time” (through December 5). Using Walt Whitman’s LEAVES OF GRASS as inspiration, dividing the display into “Song of Myself,” “The Sleepers,” and the title section, the thirty-four-year-old VanDerBeek combines photos she took of abstract sculptures she made in her studio with exterior shots taken in her hometown of Baltimore as well as in the Lower Ninth Ward of post-Katrina New Orleans, resulting in evocative, meditative examinations of time and memory, finding artistic beauty in devastation. Also on view are “Collecting Biennials” (through November 28), “Paul Thek: Diver, a Retrospective” (through January 9), “Slater Bradley and Ed Lachman: Shadow” (through January 23), “Charles LeDray: workworkworkworkwork” (through February 13), and “Modern Life: Edward Hopper and His Time” (through April 10).