The 1,300th Daily Pic: Marsden Hartley and the New Whitney’s Amicus Brief

Like the Supreme Court, the Whitney contemplates gayness.

Marsden Hartley, Painting, Number 5. Courtesy of the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York.


THE DAILY PIC (#1300): Two celebrations, today.

The important one: New York gets a grand new museum, as the Whitney Museum of American Art finally opens to the general public in its fresh digs.

Mine: The Daily Pic just reviewed its 1,300th work of art – a total that I think any critic would be proud of, adding up to something like 300,000 entirely art-centered words.

Happy to have Marsden Hartley’s Painting, Number 5 stand for the twin celebration, since it’s the first work visitors see when they step out of the Whitney’s elevators, directly into its galleries. (Nice that Renzo Piano’s new building copies that single feature from the old one by Breuer; for an overall take on the new installation, see the latest Strictly Critical video from me and Christian Viveros-Fauné.)

From the Whitney coverage I’ve read – not close to all of it – critics haven’t been noting the lovely fact that, at the very moment that the Supreme Court is considering the fate of gay marriage in our country, a great museum of American art welcomes its visitors with a gay work and gay artist from 100 years earlier. Hartley painted the picture in Berlin in around 1915, in memory of the Prussian officer whom he’d loved – and then lost in World War I. Of course, at that time, the amorous content in the picture had to come veiled in symbolism. But at least homosexuality had at last become the love that dared whisper its name, among those who loved that way. (As the scholar George Chauncey has shown, the powerful notion of “coming out” wasn’t originally about declaring to the whole world that you were gay – then a legal and cultural impossibility – but about acknowledging it to yourself and your intimates.)

It’s important that the Whitney has chosen to launch itself with a picture that came at the birth of one of the great civil-rights causes–and (so far) successes–of the last century. That points to something great about the whole new installation of the Whitney collection: It includes works that might be considered naughty, or contentious, or un-family-friendly, and doesn’t flag them with warning signs. A 10-year-old girl could walk right up to Richard Prince’s appropriated photo of a pre-pubescent Brooke Shields, nude, and confront how her society has thought about girls of her age.

A 14-year-old boy could walk up to a painting that declares its gay heart, and imagine that he sees his love in it.

All that’s missing, for the straight adults among us, is Jeff Koons boffing Cicciolina. (Take note, Whitney acquisitions committee.)

For a full inventory of past Daily Pics visit

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