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The Whitney


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  • From left: The new eight-story Whitney Museum building; the Marcel Breuer building
    From left: The new eight-story Whitney Museum building designed by Renzo Piano; the Marcel Breuer building on Madison Avenue. Photo: From left: Ed Lederman; Fred W. McDarrah/Getty Images

Esther E Shipman, Curator of Architecture + Design | November 17, 2017

Controversy was swirling when the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City announced a massive expansion.  The architecture and culture communities were polarized, and the future looked dim for the original iconic building designed by modern brutalist master Marcel Breuer. The central issue was the proposed new design by PoMo (Post-Modern) acolyte Michael Graves.

Tempers flared and lawsuits threatened to create a litigation boondoggle for years.  Meanwhile the museum was limited in its capacity for larger exhibitions, and its collection was bursting at the seams.

Fast forward 30 years.

The ‘new’, relocated, and revisioned Whitney designed by Italian architect Renzo Piano opened its doors in 2015. The museum, which has the largest collection of 20th Century and contemporary American Art now houses approximately 50,000+ sq.ft. of indoor and 13,000 sq.ft. of outdoor exhibition space on four floors in the landmark Meat Packing District, and is located directly beside the southern entrance to the award winning High Line elevated park. The Whitney boasts the largest column free gallery space in New York (18,000 sq.ft.) dedicated to large scale feature exhibits, plus two floors for rotating exhibits from its permanent collection, and smaller gallery exhibition spaces on the top floor.  Even the elevators interiors are commissioned artworks by artist Richard Artschwager.

And Marcel Breuer’s uptown jewel? The building was purchased by the Metropolitan Museum of Art and renamed the Met Breuer. Currently, the Met’s contemporary exhibits have found a home there, as the curators and marketers experiment with how best to use the space (particularly on the main and lower levels), within an imposing architectural structure.