“Stuart Davis: In Full Swing” is mounted in a maze-like gallery on the fifth floor of the relocated Whitney Museum —designed by starchitect Renzo Piano. The Whitney moved from the Upper East Side to the Meatpacking District and reopened in May. After disembarking from the elevator, I turned left into a gallery featuring some of Davis’s later works. I inadvertently worked my way backwards through the exhibition that snaked through the fifth floor. Starting at the end allowed me to trace Davis’s career backwards.
The artwork in the first gallery was awash in red, green, yellow, black, and white. Davis’s later works feature shapes that have a Matisse quality to them. His works frequently incorporate common words in French and English. I considered how the words added meaning to the works, until a helpful caption gently chided me for that impulse. According to the caption Davis’s early paintings often included words from product names and signage. One such early painting merges a still life and a streetscape. The viewer is placed in the perspective of somebody looking out the window at Paris. The street is covered in signs advertising the pleasures of Paris. But in the 1950s, Davis started including words into his paintings as an independent design element. However, the caption cautions the viewer that the words were not intended to be signifiers pointing towards the painting’s meaning.
One of my favorite works from the show titled “House and Street” presents the viewer with the juxtaposed images of a façade of a building with the view from the elevated train tracks on Third Avenue. Before leaving the Whitney, I stepped out onto the rooftop terrace and looked out at a similar vista of New York.