Thursday morning the intern group was addressed by the Whitney’s general counsel, Nick Holmes, and the Whitney’s curator of photography, Elisabeth Sussman. The general counsel practices what I believe is termed “fun law.” That is, he went to law school, worked at a large corporate law firm for a few years, hated it, decided to combine his undergrad degree in art history with his law abilities and came to work at the Whitney as the manager of collections, ended up counseling the museum on contracts etc., and was therefore given the title legal counsel before being upgraded to general counsel, which is where he’s at now. Nick presented a series of case studies regarding issues he has encountered during his time at the Whitney, from having artists waive insurance rights with work they insist be placed in unprotected areas (ie: stairwells where there are no guards and where visitors can and do damage said works) to dealing with works that damage people (believe it or not it happens, and the general counsel has to settle the claim). The general counsel deals with work permits and sidewalk permits and anything involving zoning issues with the building and any and all contracts with loaners or artists or corporations. He made law sound enjoyable; he has, as he termed it, the dream job, and is clearly really enthused to be able to speak on behalf of the Whitney.
Elisabeth Sussman got her start by curating the 1993 Whitney Biennial, which is one of the more famous biennials in the museum’s history (two of her co-curators was Thelma Golden, director of the Studio Musem in Harlem, and Lisa Phillips, director of the New Museum). Sussman spoke at length about her experience as an extremely green curator working on the biennial and how that biennial really shattered a lot of conceptions and paved the way for future biennials. Sussman worked for nearly a decade at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston before returning to the Whitney, and so told us of her time there working in a museum that had minimal budget and that was really shaping its identity. She also talked about some of her favorite exhibitions she’d curated, including an exhibition of works by Mike Kelly and an exhibition devoted to Diane Arbus. Sussman noted some of the issues with the photography collection at the Whitney. The Whitney began collecting photography late, and so has many major gaps in terms of American photography. For instance, the Whitney lacks work by Walker Evans and only has a single Ansel Adams photography. These gaps are glaring at a museum devoted to American art. However, major works by artists such as Evans and Diane Arbus and Adams are extremely expensive and difficult to acquire. Therefore Sussman must focus on acquiring works by newer artists to strengthen the collection on the contemporary side of the board.
After the intern meeting I ran home for a quick lunch and then returned to the Whitney to give Cookie a tour of the museum. I enjoy being able to show my friends around where I work and I especially enjoy introducing people to art with which they are not familiar and/or explaining art that isn’t immediately comprehensible. Also, yay seeing Cookie again–seriously, their visit was a pleasant surprise.
I was going to trek to museums during the remainder of the afternoon but the weather was miserable and so I decided to head inside until around 6:30, when a dinner date with a friend forced me back outside into the horrible awful weather that seemed more appropriate to Seattle than to New York City. We went to a dirt cheap and dirty deli on 2nd avenue between 7th and St. Marks called B&H Dairy–the dairy referring to the fact that it used to be a kosher dairy deli. I think that they’ve since lost their kosher seal but whatever. Anyhow, this is one of those little hole in the wall New York City places that hasn’t been cleaned since it opened in the 1960s. And that’s okay, because the food is delicious and deliciously cheap. I had a classic New York deli dish of really wonderful cheese blintzes. The filling was perfectly sweet and the wrapping was crispy on the outside, chewy on the in, excellently cooked and extremely filling. The blintzes also came with a plate of thickly sliced and thickly buttered challah bread. I mean, this was a total win.
After dinner I walked several blocks up 2nd to the Telephone Bar and Grill for beer crawl, which I hadn’t attended since Brad’s birthday which was something like three weeks ago so I am officially lame. This was an extremely successful beer crawl: a large turnout of diverse people, some of whom, much to Brad and company’s glee, were even female! I had various enlightening conversations with various ex-college roommates of some of my Pine View friends. What can I say, Pine View people tend to be friends with smart/amusing/enlightening people. It’s a thing.
So after a few hours at beer crawl I headed home (with a stop at Red Mango along the way of course). Yes, I am a little behind schedule, but I’ll catch up, no worries. I’ve been here eight weeks already; that is absurd. Where oh where did the summer go…