At the Whitney, the Veteran Mary Heilmann Fills Our World

THE DAILY PIC: Our urban landscape has become the ambitious artist's new canvas.


THE DAILY PIC (#1303, Whitney edition): Mary Heilmann’s installation called “Sunset” is one of the very most recent, and most fresh, of all the works in the Whitney Museum’s new building – even though its artist is a veteran  abstractionist (mostly) who was born back in 1940. The piece sits outdoors, in close interaction with the museum’s new and peculiar exterior. It consists of a balcony filled with the Heilmann-designed colored chairs seen in today’s Pic, presented alongside a video monitor showing scenes from construction in the same neighborhood,  back in 1982. On the soaring concrete walls nearby Heilmann has installed vast photographic close-ups on a few pink brushstrokes from one of her earlier paintings (see the image below).

A Whitney text says that “Heilmann’s exuberant installation knits the Museum’s architecture and visitors into their setting, inspiring colorful vistas, poignant memories, and fresh possibilities,” which is true enough (and sounds suspiciously like the writing of curator Scott Rothkopf, whose texts for the Whitney’s Jeff Koons survey were exemplary). But I think the Heilmann installation is also an acknowledgment that traditional ideas about paintings and sculptures as free-standing objects, meant for isolated museum contemplation, can barely hold their own in our current world. To have a chance of competing, works of art now have to take their place right in the thick of our reality, among the chairs and balconies and vistas and photographs – and spectacular starchitectures – that surround us. Our inhabited, over-filled world has become, has to become, the ambitious artist’s new canvas. (Photos by Lucy Hogg)

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