Guest writer Sharon Lorenzo offers a review of the current Feiniger exhibit and insight into the plans to move Gertrude Whitney’s Museum downtown.

There are very exciting things going on at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York. A thrilling retrospective of an internationally renowned artist, Lionel Feininger, adds grace and brilliance to a dazzling transformation of the institution that has taken the boldest leap of late in the New York museum world. With the announced plan to move to the Meatpacking District near the Hudson River and the High Line skywalk, the Whitney will have a new building designed by Renzo Piano of 200,000 square feet. This new facility will open to the public in 2015. To add fuel to this fire, director Adam Weinberg has convinced the board of directors to lease the Marcel Breur building on Madison Avenue to the Metropolitan Museum for eight years with a possible extension for exhibitions and programming. This will allow the Met to have a hand in the era of modern and contemporary art which the Whitney now shares with MOMA and the Guggenheim, making New York the most vibrant art scene in the United States hands down!

How would its founder Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney feel about her legacy being moved from one end of Manhattan to the other?

Knowing her bravery and courage to found her own museum in 1930 when collections were already set up at the Metropolitan Museum and the Frick, I venture that she would be delighted to be in the forefront once again. Most ironically, the Vanderbilt heiress had offered her collection of 500 works of American art to the Metropolitan Museum with an endowment in 1929, but the board of directors turned her down !!  She set up her own shop in 1931 on West Eighth Street in Greenwich Village before moving to West 54th Street in 1954. The move of her museum to Madison Avenue in 1963 occurred after her death. When permits for expansion were thwarted for a decade by the Landmarks Preservation Committee, the Whitney board of directors took another look at the downtown location. Fortuitous funding has allowed the new project to emerge with great fanfare.  For more information on the plans for the downtown Whitney, go to http://whitney.org/About/NewBuilding .

This current exhibition of the work of Lionel Feininger nicely tracks the emergence of American art following the infamous Armory Show of 1913 through the life of an artist born in New York.

After a childhood devoted to the violin, he became a provocative member of the international art scene. He visited France and Germany where he married twice and resided for almost 40 years. Months before the Nazi party declared his work “degenerate”; he was called to New York by the wisdom of MOMA director, Alfred Barr, for a retrospective show of his work. From early caricatures and comic strips to illustrations for literary works, Feininger’s inquiring mind moved with the grace of a musician from church steeples to sailboats, and beaches to urban landscapes. Whitney curator Barbara Haskell’s well-written catalog is a veritable dissertation of detail on the intricacies of his inspirations, his friendships within the Bauhaus movement, and rendezvous with Cubism and German Expressionism. The essays reads like a good biography and explain the plight of artists who juggled multi-cultural influences and affiliations as the politics of the world forced migrations and relocations in the face of dire global dangers.

One of the most intriguing parts of the current installation is an arrangement of wooden toys which Feininger began as Christmas presents for his family. Reminiscent of a similar  works by Alexander Calder, these whimsical creations flush out the story of the genius of Feininger who designed a virtual landscape of toy trucks, houses, wagons,  and boats which one son later titled, “ The City at the Edge of the World.” When juxtaposed with later woodcuts or watercolors from the Baltic Sea, we see the range and diversity of an artist whose work is revisited with this excellent scholarship and assemblage of works that an institution like the Whitney Museum can garner with its global reach.   The Feininger show will travel to Montreal following its run at the Whitney which ends on October 16th.

Stay tuned for the days ahead at the Whitney. These are exciting times for American art as it has finally come to the front row for the attention it so richly deserves in the world of modern and contemporary art.

Lionel Feininger show at:http://whitney.org/Exhibitions/LyonelFeininger