“You have to be brave with a building like this. The Whitney’s collection is about the liberty and freedom of American art, and the building should reflect that. None of these artists were very polite, after all. So why should we be?”
New York - That should put into perspective the architectrual intent of Renzo Piano whose newest museum, the Whitney Museum of American Art, cements the venerable institution's move downtown to the Meatpacking District in New York City after years of tussle and headache over its expansion plans in its former haunt of the Upper East Side. It had its private opening last week (it opens to the public May 1), with a strong fashion focus with Max Mara being the title sponsor and predictably clad many of its guests like Sarah Jessica Parker and Dakota Fanning. Its former Marcel Breuer home is now leased to its fellow museum giant, the Metropolitan Museum of Art for its contemporary collection, due to open in the Spring of 2016.
Inside this modernist creation which has already ruffled up conversations about its aesthetic qualities, houses a permanent collection of who's who in the American modern and contemporary art scene, including Jasper Johns, Alex Katz and Jeff Koons, just to name a few. The spectacular and sizeable collection underlies the need for this larger space which has five levels and numerous staggered terraces showcasing another sort of art that is Manhattan's cityscape. There is also a theatre that can open up to reveal sweeping views of the Hudson. From the inside, one can also rather quickly identify Piano's forget in his intuitive use of space and light to put the artists and their artworks as the primary focus to maximise visitors' experience, since this is after all, a stage for them.
Like so many of Piano's works before him like the Pompidou Centre being the prime example, this steel behemoth may seem cold and even brutal at first sight, but with time, one will inevitably warm to it, like an archetypally slow New York summer day.
It would be appropriate here, then, to end with a parting quote from FT's contributing editor Simon Schama, who strikes a tone of confidence in the assured legacy that this building would inevitably imprint on this city: "The exhilaration [of rediscovering familiar works in new light] is in part due to the light, which, on the fifth floor, pours down from filtered skylights; and with the tripling of space. But, on reflection, the very features lamented by the party-poopers as low diversions — those openings to the city — turn out to be the secret of its newfound élan."
Whitney Museum of American Art
Now showing America is Hard to See
99 Gansevoort Street | +1 (212) 570-3600 | whitney.org | closed Tuesdays