MARY HEILMANN: SUNSET AT THE WHITNEY MUSEUM OF AMERICAN ART

Installation view of Mary Heilmann: Sunset (Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, May 1, 2015–). Photograph by Marco Anelli © 2015

Installation view of Mary Heilmann: Sunset (Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, May 1, 2015–). Photograph by Marco Anelli © 2015

To coincide with the opening of its new downtown home in Manhattan’s Meatpacking District on May 1, The Whitney Museum of American Art has commissioned Mary Heilmann to create a site-specific installation for its largest outdoor gallery, located on the building’s Fifth Floor. Mary Heilmann: Sunset comprises of three components: a pair of shocking pink geometric forms climbing the museum’s north facade, a group of forty sculptural chairs to be used by visitors, and a video Heilmann shot around the Museum’s neighborhood in 1982. The inauguration of the Fifth Floor Outdoor Gallery is sponsored by Deutsche Bank.

Miss Heilmann became known in the 1970s for vibrant paintings that married taut abstract forms with quivering line and vivid color. For more than thirty years, she has intermittently explored a stair-step motif brushed within rectangular fields or expressed through irregularly shaped canvases, which happen to rhyme with the dramatic setbacks and grid lines of the Whitney’s new building. This serendipitous connection inspired Heilmann to enlarge a detail of one such painting and print it on two large panels that playfully turn the building itself into her canvas and tweak its sharp geometries. Extending more than fifty feet up the facade, the panels are visible from the High Line, the streets to the north, and the West Side Highway.

Heilmann’s intervention extends to a group of sculptural chairs scattered on the terrace like a shower of confetti. Adapted from furniture she has displayed in homes and exhibitions, the chairs serve as elements in her larger composition and provide visitors with a space to lounge and chat with each other while taking in the majestic views of the Hudson River to the west and the Manhattan skyline. Looking down from the Museum’s higher terraces, the installation will resemble a a playful abstract composition on the paved floor below. “Museums are places to hang out,” Heilmann says, as are New York rooftops.

The final component of the installation is a large outdoor monitor that will screen the debut of Heilmann’s Swan Song. In 1977, Heilmann moved to Manhattan’s west side waterfront and documented the neighborhood the Whitney now calls home in her video Swan Song, made with Kembra Pfahler in 1982. Debuted here, this ode to a vanishing city provides glimpses of the light over the Hudson River, the destruction of the former West Side Highway, and the warehouses that dotted this ever-changing area and serves as a counterpoint to teh festive atmosphere created by the chairs; as well as offering a glimpse back in time of teh neighborhood the Whitney now calls its home.

Mary Heilmann: Sunset is organized by Scott Rothkopf, Nancy and Steve Crown Family Curator and Associate Director of Programs. The installation is Outside the Box programming which is supported by a generous endowment from The Jacques and Natasha Gelman Foundation.