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Whitney Museum Debuts New Installation

NICOLE MCNULTY: The Whitney Museum of American Art recently debuted an outdoor permanent exhibit titled “Day’s End” by the artist David Hammons. It's a steel frame outlining the shape of a shed, sitting by the Museum right at the edge of the Hudson River. As Fei Lu reports, the piece is inspired by local LBGTQ history on the far west side of Manhattan.

FEI LU: It takes a minute to make out David Hammons piece, “Days End” when you’re walking towards the Whitney. The steel pipes that form the installation seem to melt into the backdrop of the Hudson, the clouds, and buildings. Audrey Panson, a visitor to the Whitney Museum, says at first glance, the piece first struck her as industrial and minimalistic.

AUDREY PANSON: I wouldn't really know what it's all about if I like didn't read something about it, which I think is kind of odd, but makes you kind of wonder more about it, maybe.

LU 3: While visually ambiguous, the piece is actually rooted in New York City’s relationship with the West Side’s LGBTQ community. The artist David Hammons created “Days End” in part as an homage to the work of another artist, Gordon Matta Clark. That piece was an abandoned shed that used to stand on Pier 52, nearby. Hammon’s structure also recalls the community that gathered at the piers during the 1970s, at a time when being LGBTQ was dangerous and isolating in the city.

JONATHAN KATZ: I mean, in many respects, it's a kind of sacred territory, especially in the period before the advent of a widespread queer culture.

LU: That’s Jonathan Katz, an Associate Professor of Practice at the University of Pennsylvania. He also curated the first major queer exhibition at the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery in 2010 titled, “Hide/Seek Difference and Desire in American Portraiture.

KATZ: The decrepit piers that line that part of the city, were a meeting ground for literally 1000s of queers. It was, of course, particularly those who were excluded from other, more upscale establishments. So it had a distinct emphasis on communities of color and communities of a social class that would not comfortably mix with this sort of Tony bars in the West Village.

LU: Katz says although he admires it, his feeling about the piece are complicated. He says it appropriates the site for the needs of the Whitney, rather than the community that once made the piers its home.

KATZ: I perfectly understand and as a work of art, get David Hammons impulse. I am troubled by the fact that in claiming the ghost peer, the community for which those peers were most central has been left out of the conversation and left out of the equation.

LU: He also recalls the liberation the piers provided him during that time.

KATZ: Where else could you go with 4000 naked men on an afternoon and, you know, possibly have sex? I mean, it was great.

LU: And Katz says while he wishes the work better reflected that history, David Hammons “Days End” does spark reflections about that past. As she stood by the Whitney looking at the piece, Celia Sanjec said... its already a conversation starter.

CELIA SANJEC: I think it's good. We can see through and we can see the west side. And I think it's a good thing to for the memory of history of this place.

LU: Days End is now on view by the Whitney Museum. Fei Lu, Columbia Radio News


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