Whitney, 945 Madison Ave.
In these summer days of seemingly endless group shows, travel uptown to the Whitney and treat yourself to… another group show. This one has little in common with its Chelsea counterparts, though. To celebrate its 75th anniversary, the museum has filled all five floors with highlights from its permanent collection, arranged into loosely estimated artistic movements — Abstract Expressionism, Pop Art and Minimalism — and capped on either end (the first and fifth floors) by two of the most well known early 20th-century “Whitney” artists, Alexander Calder and Edward Hopper. Walking through the exhibition is “like visiting old friends,” as I heard one viewer say; nearly every work is recognizable from previous Whitney shows — or from your 20th-century art history textbook. What gives Full House an edge, adding excitement to viewing such pleasantly familiar art, is the way it’s been curated: Movements aren’t treated as discrete periods in art historical time, but rather as fluid categories that are continually expanding. For instance, Charles Sheeler’s industrial River Rouge Plant painting of 1932 works beautifully next to Jeff Koons’ New Hoover Convertibles from the ‘80s, and while neither piece squarely fits into their floor’s Minimalism theme, both are suddenly recognizable as bearing elements characteristic of the movement. While there’s little opportunity here for art-induced euphoria (we have, after all, seen the pieces before), the curation in itself is a work to be pondered. What’s more, this group show is open on summer Saturdays.
Martin Schoeller: Close Up
Hasted Hunt, 529 W 20th St.
The images in this show are familiar too, not from art history textbooks but rather from our daily doses of TV and print media. Martin Schoeller’s largescale photographs of famous faces ranging from Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie to Donald Rumsfeld (for whom the word “notorious” might be more fitting than “famous”) appeal to the part of all of us that loves to gawk. Here, for our personal enjoyment, are Jack Nicholson’s chapped lips, Cindy Sherman’s tiny blonde chin hairs, and a small particle of Lance Armstrong’s breakfast (or is it unabsorbed sunscreen?) clinging to his bottom lip. This is an opportunity to look at celebrities’ mugs as closely as we might scrutinize our own (under magnified bathroom mirrors?). Powerful, wealthy figures are rendered vulnerable; having such an intimate glimpse of them seems almost exploitative. Conversely, presenting these larger-than-life photos in the context of a gallery (as opposed to in magazines, where Schoeller’s pictures are most often published) also turns the spotlight on us, the viewers: As we flit hungrily from one image to the next, our remarkable — and, frankly, odd — obsession with these familiar strangers is utterly exposed.