Cape Cod Sunset (1934), Edward Hopper
This New York–born artist’s work is unmistakable; his spare style conveys themes like loneliness and boredom, often with a focus on rural American life. Hopper, who vacationed at Cape Cod every summer, created some of his most famous works while based in the beach town of Truro. Among them: the sunset scene depicted here. Landscapes and architecture were the main subjects of the 100-plus pieces he painted of the Cape.
Music, Pink and Blue No. 2 (1918), Georgia O’Keeffe
This oil painting is one of O’Keeffe’s earlier, abstract works, which later took a back seat to the Southwestern landscapes and other subjects for which she’s most famous. She moved away from abstract paintings due to what she saw as misrepresentation by critics, who interpreted her work as overtly sexual; her intent was to express feelings about nature and music, as referenced in the title of the work.
Three Flags (1958), Jasper Johns
The American flag has been a frequent subject for Johns, who began work on his first flag painting the year after he was discharged from the Army. For this one, Johns used encaustic—a mixture of hot wax and pigment—to depict flags on three canvases stacked atop one another, each scaled back by 25 percent to create the illusion of depth. The Neo-Dadaist hoped the viewer would reexamine familiar items when seen in a new context.
Humpty Dumpty (1946), Isamu Noguchi
Japanese-American sculptor and landscape artist Isamu Noguchi is best known for his contemporary sculptures, usually made of stone. For this piece he fashioned five interlocking pieces of stone into an elephant shape without the use of glue or fasteners. He used this style of construction for a series of sculptures meant to express the shattered state of society after World War II.
Four Darks in Red (1958), by Mark Rothko
Though he had turns as a figurative artist and a surrealist, Rothko is best known for his abstract multiform paintings. They usually comprise two or three symmetrical, blurry blocks in complementary or opposite hues. Here Rothko uses black and crimson in a dark-to-light style that intensifies the piece and gives it depth. This 10-foot-wide canvas should be viewed up close, as Rothko intended, so the viewer feels enveloped by color.
Painting, Number 5 (1914–15), by Marsden Hartley
One of the many artists backed by artist-photographer Alfred Stieglitz (who mentored and married Georgia O’Keeffe), Hartley was one of the first American abstract painters. He worked in that form in Europe until late 1915, when he returned to the US and began to paint more familiar subjects. His use of vivid colors here emphasizes military symbols of the German Army, which interested him during the dawn of the First World War.
Pieces You Have to See at the Whitney
The Whitney Museum of American Art has long been a leading institution for modern and contemporary American art. Its permanent collection showcases major artists including Jasper Johns, Peter Hujar and Louise Bourgeois, with rotating exhibitions often focused on sociopolitical and economic themes. Read on for a selection of the Meatpacking District museum’s must-see works.