NEW YORK — The Whitney Museum has unveiled its new $200 million collection of works from Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol and other American masters of postwar modernism at pivotal moments in their careers.
The 87 works from 23 artists represent a stunning panorama of abstract expressionism, pop art and other avant-garde styles associated with the New York art scene since the late 1940s. They go on public display Thursday for three months at the Madison Avenue museum.
“We believe it is the largest and most significant gift of postwar art ever made to any museum,” Whitney director Maxwell Anderson said of the paintings, drawings, sculptures and prints. “The works are estimated to be worth $200 million.”
Leonard Lauder, chairman of the museum trustees, said the pieces were largely selected from the artists’ collections to show milestones in their development.
“The artists knew what we were doing and joined in enthusiastically,” he said at a press preview Wednesday at the modernistic gallery. “Each of the artists parted with some of their most precious works.”
Titled “An American Legacy, A Gift to New York,” the collection was acquired over three years by 15 members of the board of trustees and donated to the museum for public display.
The works significantly enhance the Whitney’s holdings of works by each of the artists, most of whom have been the subjects of monographs and included in the museum’s group shows since the 1950s.
“Spanning a half-century of American art, this selection does not constitute a strictly historical or definitive overview,” said curator Marla Prather. Rather, it provides an opportunity “to examine this crucial period in American art ... with works of superlative quality.”
Among the groundbreaking works are Claes Oldenburg’s “Giant BLT (Bacon, Lettuce and Tomato Sandwich)” from 1963, one of his first soft vinyl sculptures. His life-sized “Bedroom Ensemble 3/3,” 1963/1995, set up separately from the other works, is reminiscent of a stage set with its stark, geometric lines and black, blue and white tones.
The 32 works by Johns include “Double White Map” from 1965, a two-panel collage of the United States on canvas, and “0 through 9,” vividly colored, superimposed numbers in oils on canvas, from 1961.
Pollock is represented with “Number 18, 1951,” one of his black enamel paintings that marked a shift from his “drip” creations of 1947-50. The figurative elements in the painting after his outpouring of highly abstract work caused a stir at the time.
“Bathroom, 1961,” showing a toilet, bathtub and sink in line drawings, is one of Lichtenstein’s earliest pop art creations using Benday dots, mimicking a mode of commercial printing.
Warhol’s “Nine Jackies,” a silkscreen painting from 1964 showing his fascination with celebrity and disaster, depicts newspaper photographs of Jackie Kennedy around the time of her husband’s assassination.
“Blue Eagle,” from 1961, shows Rauschenberg’s pioneer style of “combine painting” using scavenged materials for sculptural elements.