Whitney Museum of American Art
99 Gansevoort St.
Through March 10, $18-$25
Performances January 26, February 16, and March 2, free with museum admission
In 2011, artist and automotive enthusiast Kevin Beasley went to his family’s Virginia farm and was surprised to see that it was planted with cotton for the first time. The Yale MFA candidate picked some of the cotton and brought it home with him, wanting to incorporate the material into his work. Searching on eBay, Beasley found a 2200-pound cotton gin motor for sale in Maplesville, Alabama, where it had been in use from 1940 to 1973, overlapping with the heart of the civil rights movement; Selma, where the march to Montgomery began in 1965, is only thirty miles away from Maplesville. Beasley, now based in Brooklyn with a studio in Astoria, then combined the personal with the political and the historical to create the powerful exhibition “View of a Landscape,” continuing at the Whitney through March 10. The centerpiece of the show is the cotton gin motor, which Beasley transported from Alabama following the route of the Great Migration. At the Whitney, the motor is encased in a soundproof glass and steel vitrine in a room by itself, as if not only on display but on trial. Beasley has attached multiple audio wires to the motor, turning it into a musical instrument; the wires connect to modular synthesizers and processors in the next room, emitting electronic sounds throughout the day, evoking Robert Morris’s 1961 “Box with the Sound of Its Own Making.”
The installation is supplemented with a trio of slab sculptures, eight-hundred-pound eight-by-ten-feet freestanding walls made of articles related to Beasley, his family, and slavery, focusing on race, labor, and ancestry. Titled “The Reunion,” “Campus,” and “The Acquisition,” they are like excavations dug out of the soil, composed of polyurethane resin, raw cotton, garbage bags, clothing, du-rags, music equipment, and elements from Beasley’s time at Yale, from his cap and gown to harlequin masks. Eli Whitney, who invented the cotton gin in 1793, was also a Yale grad; the Eli Whitney Students Program currently helps those who have taken five or more years off from school. In addition, Yale itself was named after slave trader Elihu Yale, and Eli Whitney is related to Harry Payne Whitney, who married Gertrude Vanderbilt, the founder of the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1931. The installation is a deep dig, no stone left unturned as Beasley puts it all together into a cohesive unit
On January 12, Beasley, who was an artist-in-residence at the Studio Museum in Harlem in 2013-14, played the first of four concerts using the cotton gin motor, manipulating the many wires hooked up to several synthesizers in the listening room. He was joined by multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, and vocalist Taja Cheek for two hours of compelling noise. Wearing a Frederick Douglass sweatshirt and a serious mien, Beasley alternated sounds, from the industrial roar of the motor to space-age riffs, not smiling until the show was over. I sat on the large woofer near the center, which made it feel like I was experiencing it in Sensurround, the bass reverberating through my body. If it’s not completely packed, you should walk around, as different sounds are emitted from the various speakers. Recognizable words occasionally came through as well, including “Freedom” and “I’m here.” There will also be concerts (free with museum admission) on January 26 at 6:00, 7:00, and 8:00 with Eli Keszler, February 16 at 6:00 with Beasley, and March 2 at 6:00, 7:00, and 8:00 with Jlin. The line started about an hour before showtime, so get ready. And Beasley will be in conversation with Daphne Brooks and Jace Clayton on February 1 at 6:30 ($10).
Whitney Museum of American Art
99 Gansevoort St.
Through November 25, $18-$25
“Your perception creates the painting,” Mary Corse says in a video about her first museum survey, “Mary Corse: A Survey in Light,” continuing at the Whitney through November 25. Since the mid-1960s, the California native has been addressing unique aspects of light, time, and space in her paintings and sculptures, the vast majority of which are shades of white. Many of the works change as you approach them, appearing different when seen from different angles and distances, forming an ever-changing relationship between viewer, surface, and light. “Corse’s White Light paintings are not works that depict movement but rather works that embody, and require, movement. To truly see Corse’s art we must move: there is no ideal vantage point,” Whitney director Adam D. Weinberg writes in the foreword to the catalog. “As much as we might try, we cannot ever find the perfect viewing position; experiencing a Corse painting is in and of itself a process.” The exhibition consists of two dozen works ranging from shaped monochrome paintings, screenprints, and acrylic on wood and plexiglass to her White Light, Black Light, and Black Earth series, documenting her changing use of materials as she began incorporating glass microspheres (the material used to reflect light in road markings), hidden Tesla coils to transmit electricity, and argon gas into her work. “I try to bring reality into the painting,” she says in the video. “I try to bring the reality of our moment here on this ball of mud; it’s not that the painting relates to nature but it is nature.”
The work demands, and rewards, viewer engagement in a way that is distinct from that of other artists from the Light and Space movement, which includes James Turrell, Robert Irwin, Larry Bell, and Doug Wheeler. Divided into “Beginnings,” “Painting with Light,” “Black Earth, Black Light,” and “New Forms in White Light,” the Whitney show traces Corse’s career and experimental process primarily chronologically as she followed her own path. In 1970, the Berkeley-born artist moved away from Los Angeles to live and work in remote Topanga Canyon, building her own kiln and enjoying a more private life. “Untitled (Two Triangular Columns),” a pair of eight-plus-feet-high white columns with a space between them, echoes such paintings as “Untitled (Hexagonal White)” and “Untitled (White Diamond, Negative Stripe),” which feature a strip running down their centers. An entrancing glowing light emanates from “Untitled (White Light Series)” and “Untitled (Space + Electric Light).” Shapes and colors shift as you make your way around “Untitled (White Grid, Vertical Strokes)” and “Untitled (Horizontal Strokes).” Such 1970s pieces as “Untitled (Black Light Painting)” and “Untitled (Black Earth Series)” offer a stark counterpoint to the white light works. The more recent Inner Band paintings are like optical illusions in subtle motion. Exhibition curator Kim Conaty writes in the catalog, “For Corse, the subjectivity of perception — the acknowledgment that everyone experiences visual phenomena differently — has been a consistent driving force in her artistic practice for more than fifty years.” This survey ably represents Corse’s career, a long overdue exhibition that is, dare we say, illuminating. (In addition, Dia:Beacon has a new gallery of Corse’s work on view through 2021.)
Who: Alexis Rockman
What: Artists on artists talk
Where: Whitney Museum of American Art, Floor 3, Susan and John Hess Family Gallery and Theater, 99 Gansevoort St., 212-570-3600
When: Friday, April 6, $10, 6:30
Why: New York City native Alexis Rockman, who creates fantastical outdoor worlds in his paintings, will be at the Whitney on April 6 at 6:30 to discuss the landscapes of Grant Wood in conjunction with the exhibition “Grant Wood: American Gothic and Other Fables,” which continues at the museum through June 10. The show reveals Wood to be more than just a portraitist who is most famous for “American Gothic”; among his landscapes at the Whitney are Young Corn, Stone City, The Birthplace of Herbert Hoover, and Spring in the Country. Rockman’s “The Great Lakes Cycle” is now on view at the Grand Rapids Art Museum. Tickets for the talk, “A Chilling Make Believe: Alexis Rockman on Grant Wood,” are $10; if you can’t get to the Whitney or the event is sold out, it will be livestreamed on YouTube.
Who: Zoe Leonard, Rebecca Solnit
What: Zoe Leonard in Conversation with Rebecca Solnit
Where: Whitney Museum of American Art, 99 Gansevoort St., 212-570-3600
When: Friday, March 16, 6:30
Why: In conjunction with the large-scale retrospective “Zoe Leonard: Survey,” which opened March 2 and continues at the Whitney through June 10, New York native Zoe Leonard will sit down with writer, historian, and activist Rebecca Solnit to talk about art, feminism, politics, photography, and landscapes. Don’t worry if the event is already sold out; the Whitney will be live-streaming it on Facebook.
In conjunction with the exhibition Laura Owens, a midcareer survey of the work of the LA-based artist, the Whitney is hosting the immersive multimedia performance [title], by LA dancer, choreographer, and teacher mecca vazie andrews and her company, the MOVEMENT movement. The fifty-minute presentation will feature movement, sound, and projection as andrews responds to Owens’s radical style of painting, exploring freedom, enlightenment, and the future. The performance takes place on February 3 at 4:00, the day before the exhibition closes; tickets are ten dollars in addition to museum admission. Also currently on view at the Whitney are “Toyin Ojih Odutola: To Wander Determined,” “An Incomplete History of Protest: Selections from the Whitney’s Collection, 1940-2017,” “Where We Are: Selections from the Whitney’s Collection, 1900-1960,” and “Experiments in Electrostatics: Photocopy Art from the Whitney’s Collection, 1966-1986.”
Whitney Museum of American Art
99 Gansevoort St.
Wednesday - Monday through October 23, $17-$22
Alexander Calder, kineticism, and the Whitney have been inextricably linked since the institution acquired in May 1982 the Pennsylvania-born artist’s delightful “Calder’s Circus,” which, when on view, is always accompanied by a video showing the work in action. In addition, on rare occasions, it is activated live. The Whitney will be activating many of Calder’s other works in the new exhibition “Calder: Hypermobility,” set in motion at specific times to a specially commissioned sound walk by Jim O’Rourke. Activations, by motor or air, will take place multiple times each day (Monday to Thursday at 12 noon, 2:00, and 4:00; Friday at 12 noon, 2:00, 4:00, 7:30, 8:00, and 9:00; and Saturday and Sunday on the hour from 11:00 am to 4:00 pm). In addition, the Calder Foundation will activate the rarely exhibited “Object with Red Ball” on June 21 at 2:00, “Boomerangs” on June 28 at 2:00, “Tightrope” on July 9 at 4:00, “Goldfish Bowl” on July 12 at 2:00, and two untitled pieces on July 18 and 26 at 2:00, with more to come in August, September, and October. Below is a list of special performances by other artists during the run of the show, some of which require advance tickets.
Wednesday, July 19
Sunday, July 23
Christian Marclay performs Calder’s “Small Sphere and Heavy Sphere” (Calder’s first suspended mobile), with cellist Okkyung Lee, Susan and John Hess Family Theater
Saturday, August 5
Sunday, August 6
Jack Quartet, music by Earle Brown, John Cage, Morton Feldman, and others, Hurst Family Galleries
Thursday, September 7
Sunday, September 10
Arto Lindsay, noisemakers and rattles, in conjunction with the exhibition “Hélio Oiticica: To Organize Delirium,” Susan and John Hess Family Theater
Thursday, September 28
Jill Magid, Susan and John Hess Family Theater
Friday, September 29
Sunday, October 1
Math Bass and Lauren Davis Fisher perform “Quiet Work in Session,” Susan and John Hess Family Theater
Thursday, October 5
Friday, October 6
C. Spencer Yeh, Susan and John Hess Family Theater
Saturday, October 7
A screening of films commissioned by the Calder Foundation by artists Ephraim Asili, Rosa Barba, Lucy Raven, Agnès Varda, and others, followed by a conversation moderated by Victoria Brooks, Susan and John Hess Family Theater
Friday, October 13
Sunday, October 15
Empire State Works in Progress, with artist Abigail DeVille and director Charlotte Brathwaite, Susan and John Hess Family Theater
Friday, October 20
Sunday, October 22
Nora Schultz, Susan and John Hess Family Theater