A Trip to the Whitney

My family and I took a quick break in New York City in the first week of 2018 and arrived just in time for a major snowstorm, after driving through hours of snow squalls on our way from Ottawa. (And we didn’t know it then, but we would also drive the eight hours home through yet more snow squalls.)


We had never visited the Whitney Museum of American Art so it provided an ideal activity for a day when the weather was miserable. The collection is housed over several floors in a new building with plenty of space for taking in the work, especially for larger-scale pieces in the ‘mid-career’ survey of work by Laura Owens (born Ohio, 1970). Owens’ work can appear deceptively simple but I found it helpful to view all of her exhibit before making too many judgements. Her paintings and installations do indeed contain simple elements, but they are often layered with text and texture, digitally-manipulated photographs and even other paintings to create more complex and sometimes humorous work.

I left this exhibit with a sense of quiet enjoyment of light, and life and colour.


If Owens’ work showed flashes of humour, “Jimmie Durham: At the Center of the World” contained a strong mix of humour, satire and the absurd. Durham (born USA, 1940) worked as a political organizer for the American Indian Movement in the 1970s and his commitments are present throughout his work. He consistently draws attention to the impacts of the colonisation of the USA but probably manages to do it without alienating the people who most need to hear his message. To my mind, Durham use of humour and satire to communicate serious messages make him a trickster of sorts (although some contend that his claims to be Cherokee are false and that he is taking the trickster role too far). Cherokee or not, he draws on found objects to create works that draw on traditions of North American Indigenous art but clearly show their postmodernist and technological origins.

Guggenheim in monochrome


Guggenheim 3 -- Fujifilm XE-1 - 14mm - f/11 - 1/350 sec - ISO 200The term is overused, but the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum truly is an iconic piece of architecture and instantly recognizable. Designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, it is as much a work of art as any of the pieces displayed within its walls.

I've admired the building on previous trips to New York City but this is the first time I've had the opportunity to visit the gallery. Unfortunately, the current installation by artist James Turrell means that the famous interior spiral ramp is completely covered by projection screens. Great for lovers of Turrell's work with light; not so great for anyone who wants to experience the unique design of the gallery.

I may have spent as long photographing the building as I did visiting the exhibits inside. The curves and lines cry out for abstract treatment and it gave me the opportunity to try out the black and white mode of the Fujifilm X-E1, using the simulated red filter to darken skies.

I wasn't disappointed. The resulting JPEGs, while not completely straight-out-of-the-camera (I did make some contrast adjustments), showed a pleasing tonal range and held highlights well. I'm becoming increasingly confident that the JPEGs the X-E1 produces stand up with little or no post-processing.

I think I'll be doing a lot more black and white work with this camera.

Geggenheim 6 -- Fujifilm X-E1 - 14mm - f/11 - 1/220 sec - ISO 200Guggenheim 12 -- Fujifilm X-E1 - 18-55mm @ 55mm - f/8 - 1/1800 sec - ISO 200Guggenheim 4 -- Fujifilm X-E1 - 14mm - f/11 - 1/240 sec - ISO 200Guggenheim 2 -- Fujifilm X-E1 - 18-55mm @ 55mm - f/8 - 1/320 sec - ISO 200