Early bird
tickets
available now!
Galleries
Pack It up, Pack It in

The Whitney Museum of American Art has moved into a new $422m building sandwiched between the Hudson and the High Line in Manhattan’s fashionable Meatpacking District. Museum director Adam D Weinberg tells the story

By Alice Davis | Published in Attractions Management 2015 issue 3


Why did you move from Madison Avenue to the Meatpacking District?
In 2007, with the help of the City of New York and the Mayor Michael Bloomberg administration, the Whitney Museum identified a site on a largely abandoned lot in the Meatpacking District. This site offered extraordinary advantages: a large, horizontal space ideal for creating column-free museum galleries; proximity to Chelsea’s gallery district; open views of the Hudson River; adjacency to the High Line Park that would ensure considerable foot traffic; and the opportunity for the building to be viewed from 360 degrees.

We were also excited to return to the same neighbourhood where Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney founded the museum 85 years ago.

This site, in particular, is connected to the history of American art. In the area, for example, Ad Reinhardt had a studio on Gansevoort Street, Willem de Kooning painted very nearby, Gordon Matta-Clark did his famous pier cut across the street. Edward Hopper painted in the neighbourhood. Jasper Johns, Lawrence Weiner and Julian Schnabel all have studios in the neighbourhood, among others.”

What can you bring to the area?
There are several wonderful arts organisations nearby including the Kitchen and White Columns and the Whitney looks forward to being another cultural resource for the community.

Why did you want a brand new building?
Initially we wanted to expand on site, adjacent to the Marcel Breuer-designed building we’d occupied on Madison Avenue since 1966. We undertook a couple of design schemes, but we ultimately decided there wasn’t enough space to build what we needed. The site necessitated a design that would have been too vertical and the Breuer building was too hard to complement

Building a museum from the ground up is a rare opportunity and it allowed us to design a building that responds to our specific program needs. The idea to expand was primarily to be able to present more of the collection, but also to gain dedicated education space, a theatre and the back-of-house facilities that were lacking in our previous building.

Why did you choose to work with Renzo Piano?
While interviewing other architects, we asked what their favourite museum building was. Almost every one named the Menil Collection in Houston, Texas, designed by Renzo Piano Building Workshop. We decided that if all these architects – young and old, American and non-American – are citing Renzo Piano as the great museum architect, then we should talk to him.

Hiring Piano was the right decision because we needed somebody who was experienced in building in New York, who knew how to build in a dense urban environment – who was really an urbanist.

At their best, his buildings put the art first and are not primarily concerned with what the building looks like on the exterior. His buildings are about creating a space for art.

Can you describe the building?
The new building includes approximately 50,000 square feet [4,650sqm] of indoor galleries and 13,000 square feet [1,200sqm] of outdoor exhibition space and terraces facing the High Line. An expansive gallery for special exhibitions is approximately 18,000 square feet [1,670sqm], making it the largest column-free museum gallery in New York City. Additional exhibition space includes a lobby gallery (accessible free of charge), two floors for the permanent collection and a special exhibitions gallery on the top floor. 

The building also includes an education centre offering state-of-the-art classrooms; a multi-use black box theatre for film, video, and performance with an adjacent outdoor gallery; a 170-seat theatre with stunning views of the Hudson River; and a Works on Paper Study Centre, Conservation Lab, and Library Reading Room. The classrooms, theatre and study centre are all firsts for the Whitney. 

A shop and restaurant on the completely transparent ground-floor level contribute to the busy street life of the area.

Piano’s design takes a strong and strikingly asymmetrical form – one that responds to the industrial character of the neighbouring loft buildings and overhead railway while asserting a contemporary, sculptural presence. The upper storeys of the building overlook the Hudson River on its west and step back gracefully from the elevated High Line park to its east.

Piano wanted pedestrians to identify the Whitney from the exterior as a museum. From the east and west, the windows of the major exhibition gallery are visible and the astonishing horizontal form of the gallery itself is evident. Walking down the High Line from the north, people will see art on the multiple exterior galleries as well as glimpse art works in the windows of the Conservation Lab and art receiving area.

How does his design represent the Whitney?
The new building embodies the spirit and aspirations of the museum today and reaffirms the Whitney’s core identity as the “artists’ museum”. The building was designed to present art in the best possible conditions and to provide artists with the greatest flexibility to realise their work.

It provides far more room to display the collection, which has grown to nearly 22,000 works. It represents a further opening up to the public with its transparency, multiple indoor/outdoor spaces and, for the first time, dedicated spaces devoted to the performing arts and education.

It’s our fervent hope that the scale, flexibility and character of the gallery spaces – interior and exterior – will be an inspiration to artists for generations to come and provide welcoming spaces for visitors to experience art.

Can you tell us about the Artschwager elevators?
Underscoring the importance of the art experience beginning immediately, the elevators were designed by artist Richard Artschwager and are the only commissioned work of art in the new building. 

Six in Four, the title Artschwager gave the Whitney elevators, is the last major artwork he created before his death. The four elevators are the culmination of a body of work based on six themes: Door, Window, Table, Basket, Mirror, and Rug that were the subject of hundreds of drawings and sculptures Artschwager made throughout his career. Each elevator is an immersive installation featuring these themes. Visitors enter the elevators and have the experience of standing under a table; on a rug and in front of a mirror; opposite a door and next to a window; or in a giant woven basket.

Throughout the day, the four elevators will be used by the museum’s many visitors (and the largest will also be used to transport art). We hope they’ll become a beloved touchstone for our visitors – a visual memory that fosters a lasting connection with the museum.

What will be on display?
Until the end of September, the entire museum is dedicated to the exhibition America is Hard to See, a presentation of more than 600 works from the permanent collection. The exhibition reexamines the history of art in the US from the beginning of the 20th century to the present.

The exhibition elaborates the themes, ideas, beliefs and passions that have galvanised American artists in their struggle to work within and against established conventions, often directly engaging their political and social contexts. Numerous pieces that have rarely, if ever, been shown appear alongside beloved icons in a conscious effort to unsettle assumptions about the American art canon.

Works of art across all mediums are displayed together, acknowledging the ways in which artists have engaged various modes of production and broken the boundaries between them.

Also on view is Mary Heilmann: Sunset, a site-specific installation that inaugurates the largest outdoor gallery and the building itself. It includes a group of colourful sculptural chairs on the terrace, two large pink wall panels adhered to the building’s north façade and her video Swan Song – made with Kembra Pfahler in 1982 – which depicts Manhattan’s west side waterfront. The installation knits the museum’s architecture and visitors into their setting.

What is the content of the museum?
The Whitney has the foremost collection of 20th and 21st-century American art. It presents a rigorous and varied schedule of important exhibitions both from our holdings and from the collections of individuals and institutions worldwide.

Exhibitions range from historical surveys and in-depth retrospectives of major 20th-century and contemporary artists to group shows introducing young or relatively unknown artists to a larger public. The Biennial, an invitational show of work produced in the preceding two years, was introduced by Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney in 1932. It’s the only continuous series of exhibitions in the country to survey recent developments in American art.

The Whitney also presents acclaimed exhibitions of film and video, architecture, photography and new media.

How will you be using technology in the museum?
All indoor and outdoor spaces are wired for data and electricity and the whole building is wireless so that the public will have access to educational downloads. We have two “black boxes” that can be used for either performance or gallery space that are fully equipped with state-of-the-art sound, film, video, and lighting. The large box is completely sound insulated so it can be used as a recording or broadcast studio.

About the whitney

The Whitney Museum of American Art was founded in 1930 by artist and philanthropist Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, who wanted to support contemporary American artists. Since 1966, the museum has been situated in a Marcel Breuer-designed building on Madison Avenue, New York. When the Whitney, which has a collection 22,000 works, outgrew the space, Renzo Piano was commissioned to design a new museum for a site in the city’s Meatpacking District. The $422m (£276m, €386m) asymmetrical nine-storey building boasts expansive gallery space and is New York City’s first LEED-Gold certified art museum. The Breuer building is being occupied by the Metropolitan Museum of Art until 2023.
 


© 2015 The Estate of Edward Steichen/ARS

Portrait of Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney (1931) by Edward Steichen
About Renzo Piano

Pritzker prize-winner Renzo Piano was born in Genoa, Italy, in 1937. His father was a builder, which sparked Piano’s interest in the industry. He graduated in 1964. In 1971, he and architect Richard Rogers set up Piano & Rogers in London; the practice won acclaim for the Centre Pompidou in Paris, France. Piano then worked at Atelier Piano & Rice until he set up his current studio, Renzo Piano Building Workshop, in 1981. The architect’s works include the Menil Collection in Houston, Texas, Maison Hermès in Tokyo, Japan, the New York Times’ headquarters in New York, the MUSE science centre in Trento, Italy, and the Shard in London. The Whitney Museum of American Art opened on 1 May, 2015.
 



Renzo Piano
A Space For Art

Weinberg discovered that many peers and colleagues labelled Renzo Piano as the greatest museum architect. The reason, as Weinberg explains, is because Piano prioritises art and the needs of the museum: “His buildings are about creating a space for art,” Weinberg says. Piano is less concerned with the exterior – and the exterior of the new Whitney has been met with mixed reviews.

To create a space for art, Piano was attentive to the functionality and flexibility of the gallery interior. He used reclaimed pine floors that can be nailed into and later replaced with new boards if necessary, and fitted a grid system ceiling with track lights that can be reconfigured to suit the curator’s requirements. Each floor and exhibit space is designed with optimum illumination (so as to preserve the art) and optimum viewing conditions (for the visitors) in mind.

The fifth floor is home to an 18,000sq ft (1,672sqm) gallery space, the biggest column-free gallery in New York.

 



The new building has more space to display the Whitney’s 22,000 works
 


Visitors take the stairs in the newly opened Whitney Museum of American Art
 
 


Jonathan & Elan Bogarin/El Tigre Productions
These artwork-elevators, by Richard Artshwager, create the experience of standing next to everyday objects
 
A view of the new Whitney from the Hudson River, New York Credit: PHOTO: Karin Jobst
The upper levels of the building Credit: PHOTO: Nic Lehoux
Outdoor gallery spaces are a feature of the Renzo Piano-designed museum Credit: PHOTO: Nic Lehoux
US First Lady Michelle Obama inaugurates the museum on 30 April, 2015 Credit: PHOTO: Filip Wolak
The Menil Collection in Houston, Texas, was designed by Renzo Piano. It opened in 1987 Credit: PHOTOS: J Griffis Smith / TxDOT
The Menil Collection in Houston, Texas, was designed by Renzo Piano. It opened in 1987 Credit: PHOTOS: J Griffis Smith / TxDOT
Rückenfigur by Glenn Ligon Credit: PHOTOS: Whitney Museum of American Art
’61 Pontiac by Robert Bechtle Credit: PHOTOS: Whitney Museum of American Art
Edward Hopper’s Early Sunday Morning Credit: PHOTOS: Whitney Museum of American Art
 


CONTACT US

Leisure Media
Tel: +44 (0)1462 431385

©Cybertrek 2024

ABOUT LEISURE MEDIA
LEISURE MEDIA MAGAZINES
LEISURE MEDIA HANDBOOKS
LEISURE MEDIA WEBSITES
LEISURE MEDIA PRODUCT SEARCH
PRINT SUBSCRIPTIONS
FREE DIGITAL SUBSCRIPTIONS
 
23 Jul 2024 Leisure Management: daily news and jobs
 
 
HOME
JOBS
NEWS
FEATURES
PRODUCTS
FREE DIGITAL SUBSCRIPTION
PRINT SUBSCRIPTION
ADVERTISE
CONTACT US
Sign up for FREE ezine

Features List



SELECTED ISSUE
Attractions Management
2015 issue 3

View issue contents

Leisure Management - Pack It up, Pack It in

Galleries

Pack It up, Pack It in


The Whitney Museum of American Art has moved into a new $422m building sandwiched between the Hudson and the High Line in Manhattan’s fashionable Meatpacking District. Museum director Adam D Weinberg tells the story

Alice Davis
A view of the new Whitney from the Hudson River, New York PHOTO: Karin Jobst
The upper levels of the building PHOTO: Nic Lehoux
Adam D Weinberg has been the Alice Pratt Brown director of New York’s Whitney Museum since October 2003 PHOTO: Scott Rudd
Outdoor gallery spaces are a feature of the Renzo Piano-designed museum PHOTO: Nic Lehoux
US First Lady Michelle Obama inaugurates the museum on 30 April, 2015 PHOTO: Filip Wolak
The Menil Collection in Houston, Texas, was designed by Renzo Piano. It opened in 1987 PHOTOS: J Griffis Smith / TxDOT
The Menil Collection in Houston, Texas, was designed by Renzo Piano. It opened in 1987 PHOTOS: J Griffis Smith / TxDOT
Rückenfigur by Glenn Ligon PHOTOS: Whitney Museum of American Art
’61 Pontiac by Robert Bechtle PHOTOS: Whitney Museum of American Art
Edward Hopper’s Early Sunday Morning PHOTOS: Whitney Museum of American Art

Why did you move from Madison Avenue to the Meatpacking District?
In 2007, with the help of the City of New York and the Mayor Michael Bloomberg administration, the Whitney Museum identified a site on a largely abandoned lot in the Meatpacking District. This site offered extraordinary advantages: a large, horizontal space ideal for creating column-free museum galleries; proximity to Chelsea’s gallery district; open views of the Hudson River; adjacency to the High Line Park that would ensure considerable foot traffic; and the opportunity for the building to be viewed from 360 degrees.

We were also excited to return to the same neighbourhood where Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney founded the museum 85 years ago.

This site, in particular, is connected to the history of American art. In the area, for example, Ad Reinhardt had a studio on Gansevoort Street, Willem de Kooning painted very nearby, Gordon Matta-Clark did his famous pier cut across the street. Edward Hopper painted in the neighbourhood. Jasper Johns, Lawrence Weiner and Julian Schnabel all have studios in the neighbourhood, among others.”

What can you bring to the area?
There are several wonderful arts organisations nearby including the Kitchen and White Columns and the Whitney looks forward to being another cultural resource for the community.

Why did you want a brand new building?
Initially we wanted to expand on site, adjacent to the Marcel Breuer-designed building we’d occupied on Madison Avenue since 1966. We undertook a couple of design schemes, but we ultimately decided there wasn’t enough space to build what we needed. The site necessitated a design that would have been too vertical and the Breuer building was too hard to complement

Building a museum from the ground up is a rare opportunity and it allowed us to design a building that responds to our specific program needs. The idea to expand was primarily to be able to present more of the collection, but also to gain dedicated education space, a theatre and the back-of-house facilities that were lacking in our previous building.

Why did you choose to work with Renzo Piano?
While interviewing other architects, we asked what their favourite museum building was. Almost every one named the Menil Collection in Houston, Texas, designed by Renzo Piano Building Workshop. We decided that if all these architects – young and old, American and non-American – are citing Renzo Piano as the great museum architect, then we should talk to him.

Hiring Piano was the right decision because we needed somebody who was experienced in building in New York, who knew how to build in a dense urban environment – who was really an urbanist.

At their best, his buildings put the art first and are not primarily concerned with what the building looks like on the exterior. His buildings are about creating a space for art.

Can you describe the building?
The new building includes approximately 50,000 square feet [4,650sqm] of indoor galleries and 13,000 square feet [1,200sqm] of outdoor exhibition space and terraces facing the High Line. An expansive gallery for special exhibitions is approximately 18,000 square feet [1,670sqm], making it the largest column-free museum gallery in New York City. Additional exhibition space includes a lobby gallery (accessible free of charge), two floors for the permanent collection and a special exhibitions gallery on the top floor. 

The building also includes an education centre offering state-of-the-art classrooms; a multi-use black box theatre for film, video, and performance with an adjacent outdoor gallery; a 170-seat theatre with stunning views of the Hudson River; and a Works on Paper Study Centre, Conservation Lab, and Library Reading Room. The classrooms, theatre and study centre are all firsts for the Whitney. 

A shop and restaurant on the completely transparent ground-floor level contribute to the busy street life of the area.

Piano’s design takes a strong and strikingly asymmetrical form – one that responds to the industrial character of the neighbouring loft buildings and overhead railway while asserting a contemporary, sculptural presence. The upper storeys of the building overlook the Hudson River on its west and step back gracefully from the elevated High Line park to its east.

Piano wanted pedestrians to identify the Whitney from the exterior as a museum. From the east and west, the windows of the major exhibition gallery are visible and the astonishing horizontal form of the gallery itself is evident. Walking down the High Line from the north, people will see art on the multiple exterior galleries as well as glimpse art works in the windows of the Conservation Lab and art receiving area.

How does his design represent the Whitney?
The new building embodies the spirit and aspirations of the museum today and reaffirms the Whitney’s core identity as the “artists’ museum”. The building was designed to present art in the best possible conditions and to provide artists with the greatest flexibility to realise their work.

It provides far more room to display the collection, which has grown to nearly 22,000 works. It represents a further opening up to the public with its transparency, multiple indoor/outdoor spaces and, for the first time, dedicated spaces devoted to the performing arts and education.

It’s our fervent hope that the scale, flexibility and character of the gallery spaces – interior and exterior – will be an inspiration to artists for generations to come and provide welcoming spaces for visitors to experience art.

Can you tell us about the Artschwager elevators?
Underscoring the importance of the art experience beginning immediately, the elevators were designed by artist Richard Artschwager and are the only commissioned work of art in the new building. 

Six in Four, the title Artschwager gave the Whitney elevators, is the last major artwork he created before his death. The four elevators are the culmination of a body of work based on six themes: Door, Window, Table, Basket, Mirror, and Rug that were the subject of hundreds of drawings and sculptures Artschwager made throughout his career. Each elevator is an immersive installation featuring these themes. Visitors enter the elevators and have the experience of standing under a table; on a rug and in front of a mirror; opposite a door and next to a window; or in a giant woven basket.

Throughout the day, the four elevators will be used by the museum’s many visitors (and the largest will also be used to transport art). We hope they’ll become a beloved touchstone for our visitors – a visual memory that fosters a lasting connection with the museum.

What will be on display?
Until the end of September, the entire museum is dedicated to the exhibition America is Hard to See, a presentation of more than 600 works from the permanent collection. The exhibition reexamines the history of art in the US from the beginning of the 20th century to the present.

The exhibition elaborates the themes, ideas, beliefs and passions that have galvanised American artists in their struggle to work within and against established conventions, often directly engaging their political and social contexts. Numerous pieces that have rarely, if ever, been shown appear alongside beloved icons in a conscious effort to unsettle assumptions about the American art canon.

Works of art across all mediums are displayed together, acknowledging the ways in which artists have engaged various modes of production and broken the boundaries between them.

Also on view is Mary Heilmann: Sunset, a site-specific installation that inaugurates the largest outdoor gallery and the building itself. It includes a group of colourful sculptural chairs on the terrace, two large pink wall panels adhered to the building’s north façade and her video Swan Song – made with Kembra Pfahler in 1982 – which depicts Manhattan’s west side waterfront. The installation knits the museum’s architecture and visitors into their setting.

What is the content of the museum?
The Whitney has the foremost collection of 20th and 21st-century American art. It presents a rigorous and varied schedule of important exhibitions both from our holdings and from the collections of individuals and institutions worldwide.

Exhibitions range from historical surveys and in-depth retrospectives of major 20th-century and contemporary artists to group shows introducing young or relatively unknown artists to a larger public. The Biennial, an invitational show of work produced in the preceding two years, was introduced by Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney in 1932. It’s the only continuous series of exhibitions in the country to survey recent developments in American art.

The Whitney also presents acclaimed exhibitions of film and video, architecture, photography and new media.

How will you be using technology in the museum?
All indoor and outdoor spaces are wired for data and electricity and the whole building is wireless so that the public will have access to educational downloads. We have two “black boxes” that can be used for either performance or gallery space that are fully equipped with state-of-the-art sound, film, video, and lighting. The large box is completely sound insulated so it can be used as a recording or broadcast studio.

About the whitney

The Whitney Museum of American Art was founded in 1930 by artist and philanthropist Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, who wanted to support contemporary American artists. Since 1966, the museum has been situated in a Marcel Breuer-designed building on Madison Avenue, New York. When the Whitney, which has a collection 22,000 works, outgrew the space, Renzo Piano was commissioned to design a new museum for a site in the city’s Meatpacking District. The $422m (£276m, €386m) asymmetrical nine-storey building boasts expansive gallery space and is New York City’s first LEED-Gold certified art museum. The Breuer building is being occupied by the Metropolitan Museum of Art until 2023.
 


© 2015 The Estate of Edward Steichen/ARS

Portrait of Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney (1931) by Edward Steichen
About Renzo Piano

Pritzker prize-winner Renzo Piano was born in Genoa, Italy, in 1937. His father was a builder, which sparked Piano’s interest in the industry. He graduated in 1964. In 1971, he and architect Richard Rogers set up Piano & Rogers in London; the practice won acclaim for the Centre Pompidou in Paris, France. Piano then worked at Atelier Piano & Rice until he set up his current studio, Renzo Piano Building Workshop, in 1981. The architect’s works include the Menil Collection in Houston, Texas, Maison Hermès in Tokyo, Japan, the New York Times’ headquarters in New York, the MUSE science centre in Trento, Italy, and the Shard in London. The Whitney Museum of American Art opened on 1 May, 2015.
 



Renzo Piano
A Space For Art

Weinberg discovered that many peers and colleagues labelled Renzo Piano as the greatest museum architect. The reason, as Weinberg explains, is because Piano prioritises art and the needs of the museum: “His buildings are about creating a space for art,” Weinberg says. Piano is less concerned with the exterior – and the exterior of the new Whitney has been met with mixed reviews.

To create a space for art, Piano was attentive to the functionality and flexibility of the gallery interior. He used reclaimed pine floors that can be nailed into and later replaced with new boards if necessary, and fitted a grid system ceiling with track lights that can be reconfigured to suit the curator’s requirements. Each floor and exhibit space is designed with optimum illumination (so as to preserve the art) and optimum viewing conditions (for the visitors) in mind.

The fifth floor is home to an 18,000sq ft (1,672sqm) gallery space, the biggest column-free gallery in New York.

 



The new building has more space to display the Whitney’s 22,000 works
 


Visitors take the stairs in the newly opened Whitney Museum of American Art
 
 


Jonathan & Elan Bogarin/El Tigre Productions
These artwork-elevators, by Richard Artshwager, create the experience of standing next to everyday objects
 

Originally published in Attractions Management 2015 issue 3

Published by Leisure Media Tel: +44 (0)1462 431385 | Contact us | About us | © Cybertrek Ltd