New York

“The American Century: Art & Culture 1900-2000”

Whitney Museum of American Art

Tocqueville was right. He thought that the inherent conflict between liberty and equality was the one big story the US had to tell, and “The American Century,” the two-part survey show on view this year at the Whitney Museum of American Art, inevitably retold that tale, playing a lively set of variations on Tocqueville’s theme. Twentieth-century art emerged as a field in which the dueling ambitions of personal liberty and social parity produced a potent creative ferment, and the fruits of artistic freedom in America are made manifest in the hundreds of paintings, sculptures, objets d’art, films, photographs, videos, ephemera, and cultural artifacts that have been on display at the Whitney since Part I (1900–1950) opened last April. Equality between the show’s halves, however, proved elusive. Indeed, the binary structure all but demanded that viewers prefer one to the other, or at least

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