Keith Mayerson, longtime SVACE faculty member, is included in America is Hard to See, the inaugural exhibition at the new Whitney Museum of American Art. Keith’s historical paintings are finally getting the historical stature they deserve, after his inclusion in the 2014 Whitney Biennial, several solo shows, and his ambitious curatorial efforts, such as this and this.
Keith’s powerful 2007 painting, 9/11, is shocking. Every 9/11 image is chilling, but 9/11 pinpoints the exact moment where history derailed. Of the images available, Keith could have chosen the first plane, the fiery impact, or the dramatic collapse of our Twin Towers. Instead, he focuses on the approach of the second plane, the flash of a moment where our abeyant incomprehension switched over to recognition. That is, after the first plane struck at 8:46 am, many of us were confused: What kind of plane was that? Was it an accident? What just happened? But when the second plane struck at 9:03 am, confusion vanished. It was an attack. People had died. More attacks were plausible. Our presumptive safety in the world was gone.
The rest is history.
Carter E. Foster, Steven and Ann Ames Curator of Drawing at the Whitney, describes the place of 9/11 in the exhibition:
“Keith’s 2007 painting, 9/11, is in a section of the show called Course of Empire. There’s a Mark Bradford painting related to Hurricane Katrina, an Ed Ruscha painting about the decline of America’s global dominance, and Aleksandra Mir drawings that depict Osama bin Laden as their subject matter. Course of Empire explores the post-9/11, post-Katrina, post-financial collapse years: gloomy times in America.”
“Keith’s painting makes an explicit reference to these subjects, and it gels with other Course of Empire works, which take different angles. Consequently, 9/11 is a great summation of that room, while representing a type of history painting.”
Regarding the personal and communal functions of 9/11, Keith writes:
“The 9-11 painting was a watershed work for me. Although I didn’t personally take the photograph it is based upon, I did witness the event. I used the image as a talisman for my own memories and deep feelings towards that day, the victims that were lost, and how the world changed because of the sublime atrocities of that day (and the subsequent travails we are still living through and with because of everything the event stands for and is surrounded by). ”
“I painted the picture because I ‘had to,’ to relieve myself of the anxieties of my nightmares and fears, and also because I finally wanted to bring the honesty of expression that I have strived for since the beginning of my career to the forefront. I’m glad to have been able to express myself in this manner, and also grateful for the reaction of people who have been moved by the work, as I feel I am relating with them our shared experience and feelings, while also being able to bring to an oil painting an historical event of our contemporary times. I hope it helps others remember this day and everything that it conveys symbolically and emotionally, and I truly hope it honors those who were lost and affected by one of the most tragically important mornings in our nation’s history.”
“It was my hope that a museum in New York City would acquire the work, as I didn’t want it to go to a personal collection, and that it would be safely in a museum in the city that was directly affected by the events of that morning. I am very honored that the Whitney Museum of American Art would want to have this painting in their permanent collection. That they would choose to exhibit it in the Course of Empire chapter of America is Hard to See, their inaugural exhibition, is most moving to me.”