How The Rock led me to the Whitney Museum

Like all good Americans, I follow Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson on Twitter. This should come as no surprise to regular blog readers, since my blind affection for The Rock has been well documented. I’ll watch anything that he’s in, which unfortunately has led to some very questionable movie choices over the years. But The Rock is such an affable guy that even when I have to sit through some dreadful films, I generally don’t hold a grudge. I think he’s most likely capable of more than the type of roles that he’s typically given, but he’s carved a nice little niche out for himself and has a legitimate film career, so he probably knows what he’s doing.

The Rock is a good Twitter follow since he tends to share a lot of pictures and genuinely seems to appreciate all the support that he gets from fans. He is also the rare celebrity that is able to promote their projects without going overboard about it; I’ve contemplated unfollowing some people recently since they seem to retweet just about every positive thing that others have said about them and it blows up my Twitter feed. Plus The Rock has a pretty strong hashtag game and has a good sense of humor; I usually smile to myself at least once a day from his tweets as I’m scrolling through my feed.

It’s hard to say why this particular tweet caught my attention:

 

My best guess was that it was the #nyc hashtag, since I’m always interested in new things to check out when I’m traveling and I’d never heard of a Popeye statute. For some reason, I am drawn to random pop culture statutes in cities; I spent way too much time trying to find the Fonzie statue the last time that I was in Milwaukee, but that search may have been inhibited by all the brewery tours that I had participated in earlier in the day. For whatever reason, I decided to investigate this Popeye statue and where I could find it. A Google search for “Popeye statue NYC” led me to a special exhibition at the Whitney Museum of the works of artist Jeff Koons. I didn’t know Koons by name, but I realized that I was familiar with some of his artwork. His stuff was right up my alley, as he tended to incorporate a lot of pop culture into his pieces, including his statue of Popeye that appeared to be the same piece from The Rock’s photo. I was going to be in NYC anyway for An Evening with Kevin Smith, so I decided to build some time into my itinerary for that trip to swing by the Whitney and check the exhibit out.

I’d never been to the Whitney Museum before; I don’t have a ton of reasons to be wandering around the Upper East Side on my adventures. As I walked to the museum, I passed a lot of designer stores that I have no business going into; typically I know that if there is a guard at the door of a store, that’s not a place I should be shopping. I wouldn’t have popped my head into Prada or Dolce & Gabbana on a good day, but considering I had spilled Shake Shack on myself during lunch I most definitely was not going to be browsing. When I arrived at the Whitney, the first thing I noticed was how big the building was and how it didn’t really fit in with the rest of the surrounding architecture.

The second thing that I noticed was the line.

It appeared that I was not the only person inspired to visit Jeff Koons exhibition as the line wrapped around the block. If I have one complaint about NYC, it’s that there is a line for pretty much everything. That’s not unexpected, of course, given the number of people that reside in in the five boroughs, but it doesn’t make it any less annoying. I hadn’t built a possible 45 minute wait into my schedule, but I went to the end of the line and hoped for the best. At least I have the cupcake that I had recently procured from the cupcake ATM to smack on while I waited (and yes – that’s exactly what it sounds like).

The gods favored me that day, however, since while I was standing in line – making a mess since the graham cracker crust of my s’mores cupcake was crumbling – when some random man walked up to me and handed me a ticket to the exhibition and told me that I could go to the front of the line. I was naturally suspicious of this – I am, after all, a New Yorker – and wondered if this was a trick. But the man was well dressed and looking at the length of the line, I didn’t have much to lose, so I walked around to the entrance of the Whitney, expecting to discover that this was a fraudulent ticket and that I would be sent back to the end of the line. But miracle of miracles, the ticket was in fact legit and within moments I was strolling into the exhibition having just saved close to an hour of my time AND the price of admission. So thank you, random stranger – I have no idea why you picked me out of the line, but I’m glad you did. I also inadvertently snuck my umbrella in – I later saw a big sign saying that they were not permitted in the galleries – so I was really taking all sorts of chances that day 🙂

At first, I was pretty glad that someone else had footed the bill for this adventure since I would have been a little annoyed if I had paid to see a bunch of vacuum cleaners and inflatable toys. I consider myself a smart person, but I sometimes struggle with modern art and what exactly I’m supposed to be taking away from it or what it’s supposed to mean. To me, sometimes an object is just an object; reading the descriptions helped put things into context, but the first floor of Koons’ early works just wasn’t speaking to me.

2014-10-11 14.48.24 2014-10-11 14.48.44 2014-10-11 15.00.05

 

The further into the exhibition, however, the more I got into what Koons was doing. If nothing else, the stuff he did was interesting and unexpected; a lot of his work involved recreating objects in different materials and the themes of his work became clearer to me. He also began to incorporate more and more pop culture imagery into his art as he progressed; on display was Michael Jackson and Bubbles, one of Koons’ more famous pieces that placed the singer and his chimp in similar positions as the Madonna and Child in early artwork.

2014-10-11 15.15.57

I kind of wish that I’d thought ahead enough to jump on the line for the audio tour for this exhibition, since I’m sure that the stories behind a lot of these pieces would have been quite interesting.

There were a ton of things to look at – the career retrospective spanned almost the entire museum – but here were some of my favorite pieces:

A train filled with Jim Beam

A train filled with Jim Beam

 

2014-10-11 15.04.14

Trix are for kids!

 

This piece looked like he mashed up Cabbage Patch Kids and Care Bears

This piece looked like he mashed up Cabbage Patch Kids and Care Bears

 

Hulk Smash!

Hulk Smash!

 

Bob Hope

Bob Hope

 

All sorts of pop culture references in this one.

All sorts of pop culture references in this one.

 

Pile of Play-doh - a new sculpture that took 20 years to make

Pile of Play-doh – a new sculpture that took 20 years to make

 

Balloon Animal - this came to life in the movie Night at the Museum

Balloon Animal – this came to life in the movie Night at the Museum

 

Cat on a Clothesline - totes adorbs

Cat on a Clothesline – totes adorbs

 

My all-time favorite piece was a giant purple metallic heart; it’s so simple, yet I couldn’t take my eyes off of it. Purple is my favorite color, so it’s not unexpected that I was drawn to this particular piece. I wouldn’t mind having a small recreation of this for my desk at work. I have no idea what the deep inner meaning was behind it – it was part of a phase of his career called celebration – but I know what I like and I liked this piece a lot:

Hanging Heart

Hanging Heart

 

It appears that I am not alone; a similar piece (different color heart) sold for $23.6 million in 2007. I am in the wrong business.

And of course, I had to find the Popeye statue, which was the whole reason that I was at this exhibition to begin with. They had him tucked away in a courtyard away from the rest of the collection. I had to smile at all the little kids who were waiting to show their muscles next to Popeye; there were actually a surprising number of children at this exhibition overall, which I am always happy to see. The irony is I don’t even think that this is the same statue that the Rock visited – the flowers and backdrop are different and his hashtags in this tweet seem to indicated something to do with William Morris Enterprises; perhaps they have a similar statue in their NYC offices.

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I just hope that their parents heeded the warnings about the Made in Heaven series, which featured a lot of nudity and compromising positions. For the most part, though, the exhibition was pretty child friendly and accessible for little ones since they recognized a lot of what was featured in the artwork. I overheard a group of kids that were really fascinated with the Michael Jackson statue as their mother explained it to them. It’s always nice to see kids exposed to some culture.

I spent more time than I anticipated wandering around the exhibition and taking it all in and I was very glad that I found out about it and made a point to go. I knew that the Jeff Koons exhibition was closing in October, but I didn’t realize that the Whitney Museum itself was also closing. The museum is moving locations after 48 years and the Koons exhibition was its last hurrah. The museum will re-open in the Spring of 2015 in the meat-packing district; the former home of the Whitney will become home to the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s contemporary collection. So not only did I get to check out a cool exhibition, I also got to visit a New York institution before it relocated.

So thanks to The Rock, for unwittingly serving as my tour guide and cultural attache for the day. This might be a great project to undertake – using Twitter to make my travel decision. There’s no way that could go wrong, right?

Though the Koons exhibition and The Whitney have closed, the website for the collection is still live.

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