If sneaking onto the roof of Uris Hall isn’t really your style, perhaps the new exhibit at the Whitney Museum of American Art could satisfy your hankering for the New York City skyline.
The Whitney’s “T.J. Wilcox: In the Air,” a technologically innovative and artistically ingenious exhibition by artist T.J. Wilcox, opened Thursday, and occupies the entire second floor of the museum. Inspired by the astounding views from Wilcox’s studio apartment rooftop, “In the Air” offers its audience a panoramic film experience that illuminates a piece of New York’s intricate historical fabric.
The exhibit features 15 hours of footage—the view from Wilcox’s roof, as it transforms from dawn until dusk—condensed into a 30-minute viewing period.
“I was interested in the idea that when I was seeing the view of New York City, I was seeing it in real time—now—and across time, simultaneously,” Wilcox said. “I was kind of recalling these episodes, stories, many of them, and I wanted to give a suggestion.”
Duck under the massive projector screen and you will find yourself atop Wilcox’s apartment, enveloped in eight feet of projected cityscape, darting shadows, and clouds drifting speedily across the horizon.
“It had this extraordinary view—so extraordinary that after the first week I became worried that all I would do was sort of look out the window, because every hour it changes so much,” Wilcox said.
The projections harken back to the 19th-century film style known as cinema in the round. The footage, though projected across 10 individual screens, gives the viewer an initial impression of a single, all-encompassing skyline. It is not until the screen’s descent from the initial view from the artist’s rooftop that one even notices the different screens—a captivating effect made possible through the use of cutting-edge technology.
One at a time, six of the projectors break from the skyline footage and turn into the display of a short film narrative. Each film represents a sight Wilcox saw from his perch above Union Square or a memory. Footage includes a stop-motion animation of the Empire State Building and Andy Warhol’s giant, silver balloon launch, which marks the Pope’s procession past Warhol’s Factory in 1965. A video on the life of Gloria Vanderbilt, a woman with ties to the Whitney and who was perhaps the first celebrity to be shadowed constantly by paparazzi cameras, is also featured in the exhibition alongside a tribute to fashion designer Antonio Lopez. A personal account of the tragic morning of Sept. 11 completes the series, and each of these moments is reminiscent of memory and the ever-changing metropolis.
“I think that this suggests that you can step back and look at the city, not just in terms of having to get to your next appointment, but as a location for dreaming,” he said.
These six distinct moments, all special in some way to the artist, act as a bridge into the viewer’s own memories, allowing her to experience her own version of history unfolding. This version will conjure up new memories and ultimately will be replaced, as Wilcox suggests, by “their own stories.”
“History is always under construction,” Wilcox said.
“T.J. Wilcox: In the Air” runs at the Whitney through Feb. 9, 2014.