New York’s Whitney Museum of American Art finds a gracious new home in the Meatpacking District
It was the biggest art event of the year: in May 2015, New York’s venerable Whitney Museum of American Art reopened in a brand-new building in the Meatpacking District, abandoning its former home on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. With this relocation, the Whitney has transformed the Meatpacking District — until now best-loved for its trendy restaurants, nightspots and boutiques — into a prime artistic destination. Designed by Italian architect Renzo Piano, at a cost of $422 million, the new building is visible from far and wide, like a beacon sending out artistic vibes from Downtown Manhattan to the rest of the world.
Pritzker Prize-winning architect Piano conceived the new Whitney as a laboratory of sorts, with indoor and outdoor galleries, offering extraordinary spatial possibilities for artists and curators, while giving audiences the breadth and width necessary to appreciate the museum’s spectacular collection of 20th- and 21st-century art. “We are creating an environment in which visitors will be encouraged to connect deeply with art through an irreplaceable first-hand experience,” says Adam D. Weinberg, the Whitney’s Alice Pratt Brown director.
Piano designed the building in collaboration with Cooper Robertson, creating a strikingly asymmetrical form, inspired by the Meatpacking District’s industrial character and by the nearby railroad tracks, which have been famously transformed into the High Line public park. Rising nine floors, the sculptural building houses over 4,600 square metres of exhibition space, as well as a 600-square-metre plaza under a dramatically cantilevered entrance. The upper floors, featuring expansive exhibition galleries flooded with natural light, offer sweeping views of Manhattan and the Hudson River, inviting local and international audiences to engage with the museum and the city.
“We spoke about the roots of the Whitney in Downtown New York, and about this opportunity to enjoy the open space by the Hudson River,” says Piano. “Museum experience is about art, and it is also about being connected to this downtown community and to this absolutely extraordinary physical setting.”
Other Whitney highlights include Untitled restaurant on the ground floor, and the delightful Studio Café on the museum’s eighth floor. The Whitney is also home to the Kaufman Gallery, for films, videos and performances, and the multi-use Susan and John Hess Family Theater, which seats 170.
This season, the Whitney is hosting various exhibitions of note, including Archibald Motley: Jazz Age Modernist, which runs until January 17. A master colourist and a radical interpreter of urban culture, Motley was one of the most important figures of the Harlem Renaissance. This first full-scale survey of his paintings explores Motley’s dynamic depictions of modern life in his hometown, Chicago, as well as in Jazz Age Paris and Mexico.
Another significant show, Frank Stella: A Retrospective, takes a look at the oeuvre of one of America’s most important living artists. Running until February 7, the exhibition features 120 works, ranging from the 1950s until the present day, including some of Stella’s best-known pieces and examples drawn from various collections around the world. Works on display include paintings, sculptures, maquettes, drawings and reliefs.
Since its initial founding in 1930, the Whitney has continued to present some of the world’s most fascinating works of American contemporary art. Piano’s new building allows the Whitney to move forward with its noble mission of supporting and nurturing established and groundbreaking American artists.