Ten must-see works at the Whitney Museum of American Art

Good for: Modern-art buffs.

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  • Photograph: Courtesy the Whitney Museum of American Art

    Charles Simonds, Dwellings

  • Photograph: Courtesy the Museum of Modern Art

    Robert W. Chanler, Carl Van Doren

    Robert W. Chanler, Carl Van Doren

  • Photograph: Courtesy the Whitney Museum of American Art

    John Steuart Curry, Baptism in Kansas

    John Steuart Curry, Baptism in Kansas

  • Photograph: 2011 Lyonel Feininger Family; LLC./Artists Rights Society (ARS); New York The Museum of Modern Art/Licensed by SCALA / Art Resource; NY

    Lyonel Feininger, "The Kin-der-Kids," from The Chicago Sunday Tribune, April...

    Lyonel Feininger, "The Kin-der-Kids," from The Chicago Sunday Tribune, April 29, 1906

Photograph: Courtesy the Whitney Museum of American Art

Charles Simonds, Dwellings

Charles Simonds, Dwellings
One of the quirkier artworks you'll see at the museum is this tiny sculpture in the stairwell between two floors. It's easy to miss, and while many visitors walk straight past it, De Salvo reckons that finding it is half the fun: "The fact that you discover it yourself in an unexpected place almost replicates the experience of being a modern-day archaeologist." In the '70s the artist placed many of these tiny "dwellings" in public places around Soho and the Lower East Side; they've since appeared in cities as far flung as Shanghai and Berlin.
Where to find it: Look for it as you walk up from the second to the third floor

Robert Chanler, Carl Van Doren
It's no surprise this painting is part of the museum's founding collection: Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney and Robert Chanler were close friends who collaborated on artistic projects. In 1926, the Whitney Studio (a precursor to the Whitney Museum) hosted a solo show of Chanler's portraits. The image depicts writer and Columbia University professor Carl van Doren, who penned The American Novel a year later in 1921. "His subjects were members of vanguard intellectual and artistic circles," notes senior curatorial assistant Sasha Nicholas.
Where to find it: "Breaking Ground: The Whitney's Founding Collection." Through Sept 18

John Steuart Curry, Baptism in Kansas
This work is an example of the Regionalist movement, a uniquely American style that focused on scenes of the rural Midwest. "Living in New York, we have one particular idea of the U.S., but it's a very large, diverse and contradictory country," says De Salvo. Regionalism had its heyday in the economically depressed '30s, when the wholesome values epitomized by America's heartland enjoyed a renewed appeal. Decide for yourself whether this scene of religion and community offers the same reassurance and comfort in a post--financial-crisis world.
Where to find it: "Breaking Ground: The Whitney's Founding Collection." Through Sept 18

Lyonel Feininger, The Kin-der-kids
Perhaps best known as a major figure of the Bauhaus and German Expressionist movement, Feininger was also an accomplished cartoonist. He created two comic strips for the Chicago Tribune—The Kin-der-kids and Wee Willie Winkie's World—which will be shown in a retrospective opening Thursday 30. Despite the strips being short-lived (both ran for less than a year), Feininger is considered a pioneer of modern comic art for his boundary-pushing graphics and challenging thematic content dealing with anarchy and rebellion. "His cartoons are gritty and fantastic, and much beloved by people like Art Spiegelman," explains De Salvo.
Where to find it: "Lyonel Feininger: At the Edge of the World." Thu 30--Oct 16

Willem de Kooning, Yellow River
This yellow-and-blue abstract painting is from a period of de Kooning's career when he was spending much of his time in East Hampton. He reportedly enjoyed staring out of the window during his car rides between New York and Long Island; the high-speed glimpses of the landscape flashing by might even have influenced his work. "There's a sensation of open space in them, in the way he applies the paint, the sweep of his arm," De Salvo says of his paintings at this time. De Kooning was so enamored of the area that he relocated there in 1963.
Where to find it: "Singular Visions." Closing date TBA

While you're there...

Refuel at Danny Meyer's Untitled, which boasts Stumptown coffee ($3) and pies by Four & Twenty Blackbirds ($6 per slice). Tue--Thu 8am--3pm; Fri 8am--3pm, 6--9pm; Sat, Sun 10am--3pm, 6--9pm.

When you're in the stairwell, look out the window at the building across the street and try to spot two more of Charles Simonds's "dwellings."

In connection with "Lyonel Feininger: At the Edge of the World," John Carlin (who curated "Masters of American Comics," one of the first major museum exhibitions on the topic) will moderate a panel discussion about comics and fine art with Art Spiegelman, Chris Ware and Gary Panter. July 20 at 7pm; $8, seniors and students $6, members free.

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