The Whitney Gets High

A view of the Max Maracelebration of the opening of The Whitney Museum Of American Art at its new location on April 24, 2015 in New York City.  (Photo: Neilson Barnard/Getty Images for Max Mara)

A view of the Max Maracelebration of the opening of The Whitney Museum Of American Art at its new location on April 24, 2015 in New York City. (Photo: Neilson Barnard/Getty Images for Max Mara) (Photo: Neilson Barnard/Getty Images for Max Mara)

Look, up in the sky! It’s a bird? It’s a plane? It’s a Rauschenberg!

Right now, it seems like much of the town has surrendered to Whitney Museum of American Art mania, with a delight mingled with surprise that something has actually worked out smoothly and spectacularly in this city. The Whitney’s new Renzo Piano building in Manhattan’s Meatpacking District, due to open officially to the public on May 1, is an elegant win.


This elaborate venture has the effect of uniting the city’s cultural and tourist operations in a mutual pat on the back.


But beyond the slew of parties, photo ops, speeches congratulating director Adam Weinberg, commemorative purses and themed cupcakes, the Whitney should be patted on the back for a more sly and winsome achievement: its partnership with the Empire State Building. This Friday, in commemoration of the skyscraper’s 84th anniversary and to mark the Whitney opening, the Empire State Building will stage a nifty light show themed around a dozen paintings in the museum’s inaugural show, “America is Hard to See.” This elaborate venture has the effect of uniting the city’s cultural and tourist operations in a mutual pat on the back.

Artworks getting the star treatment, literally, include Mark Rothko’s Untitled (Blue, Yellow, Green on Red), 1954; Georgia O’Keeffe’s Music Pink and Blue No. 2, 1918; Edward Hopper’s Railroad Sunset, 1929; and Jasper JohnsThree Flags, 1958. The skyscraper, the city’s beacon, routinely does similar lighting salutes, but rarely as complicated (blue and orange for the Mets, for example, or blue and white for Columbia University’s commencement). Andy Warhol may be a little more involved.

Of course, there’s an element of promotion here, as the light show serves to draw attention to the new Piano building’s take-your-breath-away city views. Visitors to the Whitney Friday evening will have a particularly marvelous view of the 8 p.m. display from the building’s east-facing terraces.

The Whitney Gets High