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Lunch at the Whitney Museum

By Billa

Last week, my husband, Martin, and I went to see the Whitney Museum’s Biennial exhibition; the biennial being a survey of contemporary art that the Whitney stages every two years.

Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, founder of the Whitney Museum, commissioned this portrait in 1916 from Robert Henri, a New York artist. At the time, Mrs. Whitney was a professional sculptor. When Henri’s portrait was finished, Mrs. Whitney’s husband, Harry Payne Whitney, refused to allow her to hang it in their Fifth Avenue town house. He didn’t want his friends to see a picture of his wife "in pants." Mrs. Whitney’s attire and self-possessed demeanor were highly unusual for a well-bred woman of her day.

In this painting, Henri transformed the traditional genre of a recumbent female—usually a nude courtesan or the goddess Venus—into a portrait of the quintessential "modern" woman. So, she hung the portrait in her West 8th Street studio, which in 1931 became the first home of the Whitney Museum.

There were two artists that I found especially interesting at the biennial exhibition. The first was Takako Yamaguchi (born 1952 in Okayama, Japan and received her MFA from the University of California, Santa Barbara in 1978). Her abstract paintings are a mix of visual traditions in Mexican socialist murals, the art nouveau movement (creating flowing natural lines that resemble stems and blossoms of flowers), and Japanese decorative arts. Here’s an example:

The second artist is Harold Cohen. Cohen was born in London in 1928. He came to the United States as a visiting lecturer at the University of California, San Diego in 1968, became a professor, and stayed on at UC San Diego for nearly three decades. While there, he developed AARON, a computer program that produces drawings and paintings.

We watched as AARON drew an arrangement of flowers in a vase. It felt pretty amazing to see AI at work. The AARON painting below is one that was part of the exhibition that I thought was intriguing.

Around lunchtime, we made our way down to the Frenchette Bakery and Cafe in the Lobby. It was a chilly, windy day and I was craving something warming.

I selected tortellini en brodo; basically, meat-stuffed pasta pockets in chicken broth. It really hit all the right notes - savory, fragrant, tasty, and comforting.

The Yuzu soda I ordered was very pleasant: citrusy but not acidic, a wholly new taste sensation for me that I will choose again given the opportunity.

Martin’s Nicoise sandwich was made with tuna, olives, hard-boiled egg, piquillo pepper, caper mayonnaise, and arugula. He thought it was really great and he loved the freshly-baked bread.

I thoroughly enjoyed our day at the biennial. the food was delicious and the art was thought-provoking. I highly recommend both.

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An interesting and inspiring day both cultural and culinary.

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