On two separate occasions, I visited the Whitney museum and my experience could not have been any different. This post will be an amalgamation of the two visits exploring what stayed the same, what was different and perhaps the reason as why that is. I visited on September 25 and October 9.
Regarding the weather, the two dates were polar opposite: the former was a warm bright sunny day, while the latter was cold, wet and gloomy. This however did not have any apparent impact on the museum’s attendance. It was crowded as always –jam-packed with people from various backgrounds. On the 9th, however, there was a noticeable increase in the amount of kids, in comparison to my previous where kids were almost nonexistent. This factor can easily be attributed to the kids’ art program schedule coinciding to when I was visiting. Usually the program runs from 1-3pm. On the 25th, I arrived at 3:15pm and on the 9th at 11:40am. Therefore, I saw many more kids.
The Whitney’s brand-new building has a striking figure over-looking the Hudson. This enticing view, as well as the man-made Highline Park that is right next- door, sets a very pretty scenery before even entering the museum. Upon entering, everything is brand new – from the shiny glass to the digital signs spewing whimsical random idioms. After waiting on line, I discovered that unlike the Guggenheim, the Whitney charges for their audio-visual guide. Though, on an interesting note they give them for free to visitors under 18. Since the admission price is a hefty 25 dollars, it certainly did not surprise me that not too many people splurged the extra 6 bucks on the guides. On both my visits combined, I don’t believe I saw more than 20 visitors actually walking around with the guides. The free tour, on the other hand, on every floor, was filled to capacity. Wherever there was a tour guide he/she was always surrounded by a large group, consisted (from what I could see) of mostly older individuals or older couples.
Unlike the Guggenheim, the Whitney not only allows, but also openly encourages the use of photography. Thus, there is a different atmosphere in the Whitney. It is loud, flashy and crowded, at times too much to take in all at the same time. Because each floor of the Whitney is essentially one huge room cut into smaller exhibit rooms by dividing walls, there is not a lot of walking space in areas where people are prone to congregate and stand in for a long time.
In the Whitney, there aren’t many interactive exhibits, if at all. There are some exhibits that involve the visitor, like a TV screen with headphones attached that requires the visitor to put them on. In the 40 minutes I sat there watching, I saw a total of 4 people (all of them under the age of 35) pick up the headphones and listen. Now, this may be because there are guards all over the place constantly reminding people not to touch anything, combined with there being no sign by the headphones saying put me on. However, what I did witness was that when one person picked up the headphones, there was a more likely after- effect of the next person picking them up. For instance, there were two girls wandering, one unsure, sneakily picked up one set of headphones and her friend seeing her do that and the guard not telling them to stop, also picked them up.
One thing I noticed were the substantial crowds that formed around digital pieces with sounds, such as movies and videos. Not only did those pieces draw them in, it also made them linger for longer periods of time. As opposed to the other pieces of art where people would just “graze” and continue on. While it might not seem intentional, their placement in a gallery has a purpose. Having an eye-catcher at the entrance to an exhibit will bring people in and cause them to stay for a longer period of time. Once the media catches the viewer’s attention, then it is more likely that people will continue into the exhibit and spend more time then they would have without.
The most interesting complete digital experience, in my opinion, was the Black Friday exhibit done by Sophia Al-Maria. Located on the first floor, it occupies its own huge space and commands crowds for long periods of time, even though staying a long time could be painful on the ears because of the booming noises. The exhibit itself consisted of one huge 20-foot tall screen that played a video of a woman (presumably Al-Maria) walking around a huge mall/ church. Taken from various vantage points and angles, and using special effects the artist wanted to create an experience of dizziness, which the artist equates to what people experiences when they first walk into such huge “capitals of capitalism.” In addition to the big screen, in front of it lies a big mound of sand with various forms of electronics sprinkled around-phones, Smartphone’s, tablets, Ipads, TV screens (modern and old). Each screen played a different image, or set of images: some had a thousand images whirring by so that one clearly couldn’t be seen; while others had stills or different effects on the images, like a screensaver on a computer. After doing some research I realized that in fact these were two separate parts, and thus had different titles. The screen was Black Friday, while the flickering electronics was dubbed the Litany.
The reason why this exhibit fascinated me so much is the interaction that happened not on a physical scale, i.e. touching, but on an emotional scale that activated all your senses. When you walked in the loud noise immediately attacked your ears, the flashing bright lights attacked your eyes, and the loud music also made the floor shake making an all out attack on your senses that caused the person to be dizzy and disorientated. This was very cool to see how one exhibit alone is capable of evoking such powerful reactions and sensations.