This painting is from a photo I took on one of the opening nights of the new Whitney, after a long and momentous move downtown. One of the most exciting nights of my life, I was thrilled to find out just weeks before that my work was in their inaugural exhibition America Is Hard to See, and it was a truly sublime moment.
I had been selected by Stuart Comer to participate in his section of the 2014 Whitney Biennial the year before, and the museum acquired one of my works from this exhibition, My Family, and had previously acquired my work 9-11, a gift from the generous Lois Plehn. I had of course known about the exhibition coming up at the new Whitney of works from their permanent collection, but had no clue that I would be included. It was only when Carter Foster, their Drawing Curator posted it on his Facebook that I saw the list. Thinking that I wasn’t in the show, of course I was a supporter and wanted to see the artists who were included. When I came to my name I was astounded! I still didn’t know which of the works they were displaying, and didn’t find this out until just a couple of weeks before the show.
When Andrew and I went to the opening, we were in pensive moods—of course the subject matter of 9-11, the painting they had chosen, overwhelmed much of our joy—I was very much humbled by what the painting stood for and what it symbolizes, and realize that the subject matter is much bigger than me and my art, and that this was one of the primary reasons it had been chosen, and wasn’t much in a celebratory mood as the looming atmosphere of all the people who had died, and what a catastrophic event it was and is for our history prevailed. It was a "dark and stormy" night that evening, and I felt (and heard!) in the prevalent winds circulating around the building what were like the souls of the people who had been in the Towers, and thinking about them, that history, and all that has come as a result from it. I had never wanted any money from these works, and had only painted them to relieve myself of nightmares I had of the people falling. I was comforted that it was at the Whitney, a great institution in a city that this event took place, near the site of where it happened now, in a context that featured some of the best figurative narrative allegorical works in America.
In any event, this was all going through Andrew’s and I’s minds when we were at the opening, and we started on the top 8th floor that evening, and worked our way down following the chronological trajectory of the show. When we finally arrived to the last gallery on the fifth floor, we were floored, as was on its own wall, next to the wall text opening up that "chapter" of the exhibition Course of Empire. I could not believe how incredible it was, although once again I knew that it had more to do with the potent subject matter of the piece, how it indicated the time shift of our history, and how ultimately, truly, the painting was an homage to the people we lost during that apocalyptic day.
It was cathartic at the opening to go out to the amazing terrace, to literally get some air, and to take in the amazing view of the city and all that the evening represented. I took this photo at this time, thinking how fortunate we were to be alive and to have this experience, but also thinking of all who died in the tragedy and hoping I had paid respectful homage all those who died and had been affected by this time in history. I painted this painting while the exhibit was still up, feeling all these thoughts, but also all the history leading up to it, and the good and the bad moments as I was micromanaging away. I hope that I commemorated the event and our time in another, much more optimistic "history painting" of sorts—looking towards the future, the hopeful green light of the Empire State Building, the new New York of the Twenty First Century, and all that might happen with all the good people of our fair nation and world.
Placed next to the ‘Love Triumphant: James Dean in a Tree”, I feel that the emerald itself looks much like the rectum of Dean (or else, if Dean is having an ononistic moment, perhaps Tintin is “finishing him off” with the sparks flying out of the gem!), which could relate to how Tintin is often referred to as gay in contemporary culture (in a cosmology of almost all male characters—with the drag queen like exception of Castafiore the opera diva herself), especially with his close relationship with Captain Haddock! As hopefully the cartoon character has, given its essentialised, iconic look, “universal values”, and as it’s been translated into so many languages, I left the speech bubble blank, so any viewer can fill in the content of what they themselves feel the caption could be for who they are and how they would project onto this iconic allegory.
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Roy Lichtenstein, Girl in Window, 1963, Collection of the Whitney Museum.