Whitney Museum Benefits From Changing Fortunes
The New York Times, Feb. 6, 2009 — Even in these grim economic times, institutions like the Whitney Museum of American Art are able to continue building their collections. Some are gifts from donors unaffected by the financial markets; others are acquisitions in the works before things grew ugly; and then there is art that seemed out of reach before but is now available because of changing fortunes.
That last category includes a new gift of about 150 works from the Altria Group (Philip Morris Companies until 2003). When it moved its headquarters to Richmond, Va., from New York last year and stopped its charitable arts financing, it donated its art collection to a number of museums including the Whitney.
Altria and the Whitney have had a long relationship. For 25 years the museum had a branch in the company’s building at 120 Park Avenue, a space the museum was forced to close in 2008. But ties between the two organizations date to 1967 and included a special purchase fund as well as exhibition support.
“It is because of this long relationship that we received so much art,” said Donna De Salvo, the Whitney’s chief curator. “They gave us the opportunity to select the works that best complemented the collection.”
Included in the latest gift is Philip Guston’s self-portrait “Thoughts,” a 1972 oil on paper. “It’s one of the first times he showed himself smoking, a motif he went on to explore in subsequent works,” Ms. De Salvo said. Altria also gave the Whitney three 1965 Warhol screenprints of Jacqueline Kennedy at different historic moments — “Jackie I,” “Jackie II” and “Jackie III” — that were included in the portfolio “11 Pop Artists,” that was published a year later. “It’s one of the first major Pop Art portfolios,” Ms. De Salvo said. “We didn’t have any of them.”