At a time when debate continues over what it means to be American, Where We Are proposes a framework of everyday relationships, institutions, and activities that form an individual's sense of self. The exhibition focuses on works from the Whitney’s collection made between 1900 and 1960, a tumultuous period in the history of the United States when life in the country changed drastically due to war, economic collapse, and demands for civil rights. Artists responded in complex and diverse ways, and the exhibition honors their efforts to put forward new ways of presenting the self and American life.
Drawn entirely from the Whitney’s permanent collection, the exhibition is organized around five themes: family and community; work; home; the spiritual; and the nation. Where We Are, as well as each of its sections, is titled after a phrase in W. H. Auden’s poem “September 1, 1939.” Auden, who was raised in England, wrote the poem in New York City shortly after his immigration to the United States and at the very outset of World War II. The title of the poem marks the date Germany invaded Poland. While its subject is the beginning of the war, Auden’s true theme is how the shadow of a global emergency reaches into the far corners of everyday life. Though mournful, the poem concludes by pointing to the individual’s capacity to "show an affirming flame.” Where We Are shares Auden’s guarded optimism, gathering a constellation of artists whose light might lead us forward.
Where We Are is organized by David Breslin, DeMartini Family Curator and Director of the Collection, with Jennie Goldstein, assistant curator, and Margaret Kross, curatorial assistant.