Fine Art with a Cherry on Top
Photograph by Anna Antoniak
The first of the midweek outings for Scholars this year began with a tour of a biannual exhibition at the Whitney Museum that traditionally “takes the pulse of the contemporary artistic moment,” and ended with what has become a Scholarship Plus tradition — ice cream on the High Line, just outside the museum.
“This will be more interesting if we can chat,” said Stina Puotinen, a museum educator welcoming our Scholarship Plus group for a special visit to the Whitney Biennial. She explained that the exhibition showcased the work of 75 artists from around the country, designed to be what the museum calls “an unmissable event for anyone interested in finding out what’s happening in art today.” She would introduce us to five works in detail, she said, encounters that would take a bit over an hour, and then we could wander through the rest of the show for another hour before the museum closed.
There were seven scholars in our group, joined by staff members and by Diane Exavier, a playwright and arts educator who has long been a Scholarship Plus stalwart, arranging visits for groups of scholars over the years to artists’ studios as well as to the Whitney. The group, along with several other visitors, easily fit into one of the Whitney’s giant elevators, each of them containing paintings by the artist Richard Artschwager, and we were off to the sixth floor to begin our tour.
Ms. Puotinen said that one of the themes that had emerged in the show was artists “making comments on their communities.” The first two works she introduced us to illustrated that point. The first was “Maria-Maria,” by Daniel Lind-Ramos, a sculpture that included a blue tarpaulin and a form suggestive of a head made from a coconut, alluding both to the destruction wreaked by Hurricane Maria on Puerto Rico in 2017 and to the island’s patron saint, the Virgin Mary. Nearby, a series of four paintings by Eddie Arroyo showed the evolution between 2016 and 2019 of a small building in Miami’s Little Haiti neighborhood. The structure changed from a local spot called Café Creole, with a mural on one wall by Serge Toussaint, through decrepitude to restoration in a gentrified neighborhood, the mural covered over and the wall whitewashed.
The final work that Ms. Puotinen introduced us to was Kota Ezawa’s “National Anthem,” a huge wall-sized projection of watercolor portrayals showing athletes and others standing or taking a knee at the opening of a game. It was a thought-provoking piece on many levels, accompanied by a soundtrack of “The Star Spangled Banner” that was, as one of our students pointed out, gentle and almost reverential. Here and elsewhere during our visit, the interaction that Ms. Puotinen had hoped for had become reality.
After an hour in which the rest of the Biennial was explored independently — and after Ms. Puotinen distributed passes to all for a free subsequent visit — we met again in the lobby. It was a short walk to the Ample Hills Creamery where we were all treated to outstanding ice cream, which we finished sitting on benches in the late-afternoon breezes of the nearby High Line.
Photographs by Michael J. Leahy