This fall, the Whitney Museum of American Art presents In the Air, a full-floor exhibition centering on a major new work by the New York–based artist T. J. Wilcox. Organized by Anne and Joel Ehrenkranz Curator Chrissie Iles and opening September 19, 2013, the exhibition features a panoramic video installation inspired by views of New York City seen from the artist’s studio, high above Union Square. Six video projections show a continuous image of the city from dawn to dusk, in the round. One by one, each projector cuts away from its role in producing the complete panorama and begins to present a short poetic narrative film inspired by a view from the studio’s window, weaving together images that evoke memory, transience, the passing of time, and the changing city. The exhibition will occupy the Museum’s second floor Mildred and Herbert Lee Galleries through February 9, 2014.
Wilcox’s work is characterized by a fascination with the way in which history is always under construction. His historical narratives collage historical fact, with fiction, myth, and fantasy. In this exhibition, the artist revisits the ‘cinema in-the-round’ format of the popular panoramic projection presentations that appeared at the dawn of film history, updating the concept with state-of-the-art technology.
Museum visitors entering the gallery will encounter a huge, glowing, circular screen, eight feet tall and thirty-five feet in diameter. Approaching the panoramic projection, patrons will be able to bend down and enter into a three-hundred-and-sixty-degree view of New York City, seen from Wilcox’s rooftop studio. Shown on six individual projectors, the images are woven together digitally to create a seamless view of the city in the round.
As each short film appears one by one, a narrative exploring a view from Wilcox’s studio window unfolds. In one, Wilcox creates a stop motion animation using archival footage of the Empire State Building, imagining the architect’s original plan to use the mast of the building as a mooring and entry point for transatlantic Zeppelin passengers. Though this modernist dream never came to pass, Wilcox’s filmic collage reimagines the scenario, paying tribute to the New York City of forward-thinking dreamers. Interweaving our collective memory of one of the most iconic buildings in the world with its fantastic, unrealized past, Wilcox’s own daily view of it and his fantasy of what might have been, the film explores the overlap between historical, utopian, and personal narratives.
As Wilcox has said, “I like my film and video work to appear as the visible record of my own journey through our saturated mediated age, highlighting those things that have held my attention and captured my imagination. Just as our perception of a present is a hybrid of personal memory, historical record, family lore, political, social, national, and artistic histories and mythologies, film and video provide the page upon which I make a collage of the ideas I hold most dear.”
The remaining five narratives explore each view from Wilcox’s studio, elaborating on uniquely New York stories. The films include a recreation of Andy Warhol’s launch of enormous silver mylar balloons to mark the procession of the Pope past Warhol’s Factory studio; an homage to Gloria Vanderbilt, whose life was, in Wilcox’s words, ‘mediated by the camera lens;’ a tribute to the 1980s illustrator Antonio, whose work inspired Wilcox long before he moved to New York; and an interview with the superintendent of Wilcox’s studio building, focusing on his firsthand account of the events of the morning of September 11, 2001. The final film depicts the ‘Manhattanhenge’ phenomenon, when, twice per summer, the sun sets precisely through the canyon-like walls of the city’s East-West axis.
The exhibition also features a group of related pieces selected by Wilcox from the Museum’s permanent collection, including works by Morgan Fisher, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Joseph Cornell, and Yoko Ono, as well as a daily screening of a group of films from the collection devoted to ways in which filmmakers and artists have viewed the cityscape of New York, in the second floor Kaufman Astoria Studios Film & Video Gallery.