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Whitney Museum of American Art Celebrates 75th Anniversary and Biennial 2006

New York's Whitney Museum of American Art this summer celebrates its 75th anniversary - along with its every-other-year exhibit, called Biennial 2006. The museum is a leading advocate of 20th and 21st century American Art. VOA's Joseph Mok reports on some of the provocative artworks on display and some great artists who contribute significantly to the collection. Elaine Lu narrates.

A pair of shards-studded shoes, a baby with a head covered by a toy frog, a cracked heel on a stiletto.

These are artworks on display at the Whitney Biennial 2006: Day for Night. The title is taken from the well-known 1973 Francois Truffaut film, Day for Night using a technique with photographic filters to make daylight resemble night.

Curators say the exhibition is more than a collection of fine artworks. It features important works that reveal certain artistic responses to a broad range of aesthetic, social, political and cultural phenomena.

The peace tower standing in the sculpture court outside the museum is an example. The tower was constructed in 1966 in Los Angeles by Mark Di Suvero as a statement against the Vietnam War. The tower re-emerged at the Whitney Museum as a protest of the Iraq War. Di Suvero and fellow artist Rirkrit Tiravanija invited some 200 artists to participate in the project, each contributing an artwork on a 60 by 60 centimeter panel for display on the tower and the wall in the court.

In Black Star Press, artist Kelly Walker presents large-scale canvasses of racial unrest. The images of a white policeman and black youth set at 90-degree angles attempt to portray a world turned on end. The digitally-altered images splattered with abstracted patterns in symbolic red, white, and chocolate mimic violence and contrast, merging ethical corruption and graffiti pop.

This year's Bucksbaum Award and a $100,000 prize were given to Mark Bradford's untitled canvas. Layers of mixed-media literally presented the pop culture constructed from his collection of paper material in the streets of Los Angeles.

The Whitney Museum of American Art was founded by Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney in 1931 with 700 works from her estate. Every two years the museum hosts the Whitney Biennial, which showcases works of many lesser-known figures in the field of American contemporary art.

Michael Hayes is the architecture curator of the museum says there is a network of artists to tap. "We really try to have a kind of network, so that we understand there is a young artist that is emerging. Then, we have an older artist that said you should go and look at her work. And you should go look at his work. So we have a kind of network of artists and curators to help us to keep ahead."

Along with the Biennial Exhibition, this summer also marks the museum's 75th anniversary. It launched the Full House: Views of the Whitney's Collection at 75 this month, offering a new look at the museum's permanent collection.

The entire fifth floor is devoted to the works of Edward Hopper, the artist most closely identified with the museum. Hopper's family contributed 2,500 of his paintings, watercolors, prints, and illustrated journals to the museum's holdings.

Curtis Foster is the curator of drawings at the Whitney. "He was in his 40s when he really started to sell and make a living out of his art work. So, a painting like this is actually produced when he was fairly mature. But, it has this poetic quality of light. And a kind of strange timelessness in a sense of narration, that is, you are not sure what is going on. If there is something that happened before and something that's about to happen after. This is the famous cinematic quality that Hopper is known for."

The museum boasts the world's largest collection of Alexander Calder, who pioneered the sculpture forms of mobile and stabile in the 1930s. Applying the principle of equilibrium, Calder used wires and beams to construct free-moving or completely stationary artwork.

One of his most famous projects among the museum's permanent collection is the Calder Circus, a miniature reproduction of an actual circus made from wire, cork, wood, cloth and other easily-found materials.

A fearless lion-tamer. Raised axes against the ringmaster's beautiful assistant. The hustle and bustle to care for a wounded acrobat. A sword swallowed in front of everyone.

Between Hopper and Calder, the Whitney Museum of American Art will be a hot spot for art lovers wandering the streets of New York City this summer.