The Whitney Through the Years

  • Marcel Breuer's renowned, sometimes reviled, museum the year after it opened, 1967.

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  • Viewing art through the museum's unusual Madison Avenue window.

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  • The museum did not always occupy its iconic home on Madison Avenue and 75th Street. The original location, opened in 1933, was downtown at 10 West 8th Street, just off Fifth Avenue.

    Life

  • Marcel Breur in the well-known lobby of his museum the year it opened. The move uptown was both fashionable and necessary, as the downtown location was out of room for art.

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  • The Whitney Museum of American Art was created by Gertrude Vanderbuilt Whitney, after the Met rejected her collection in 1929.

    Life

  • The museum owned eight brownstones, six on Madison Avenue and two around the corner on 74th Street, bought largely for the purpose of facilitating a later expansion. After decades of trying, it never quite worked out that way.

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  • Was the Foster really a fake? Only a few years later, Michael Graves, the postmodern master and New York Five member also did away with the brownstones, creating his own riff on Breuer with a proportionate addition set behind the buildings. The Upper East Side Historic District was only four years old, but the project was still vigorously opposed and ultimately defeated.

    New York Times

  • The first proposal was a controversial design from a cadre of British up-and-comers, including the now famous Norman Foster. The museum denied its impramatur when the project leaked out in 1980, a year after it had been hatched, according to the Whitney, by an Italian developer that wanted to plant apartments, offices and galleries up to 30 stories next door. The architects always insisted they were working on the Whitney's behalf.

    The City Review

  • It would be more than a decade before the Whitney would try again, hiring the brash Dutchman Rem Koolhaas to design an expansion in 2001. His cerebral creation retained all but one of the brownstones but was still deemed too domineering and out of character with the historic neighborhood.

    The City Review

  • Third time's a charm, as the reserved Renzo Piano, whose successful museums include the Pompidou Centre, the Menil Collection in Houston and the recent Morgan Library expansion, was brought on in 2004 to create a new proposal.

    Salon

  • Piano considered removing two brownstones to create his entrance but ultimately reduced it to one to win approval from the city's Landmarks Preservation Commission.

    City Review

  • The Whitney eventually determined it woul be better--cheaper and less contentious--to move downtown, to a site adjacent the High Line. Piano is still tapped to design the museum, which was unveiled in 2008.

    The Whitney

  • This summer, new renderings for the High Line museum were unveiled. Now the big question is whether or not the museum will fully abandon its Breuer home.

    The Whitney

  • In October, the Whitney sold its eight brownstones to Daniel Straus, raising $95 million for the downtown museum but also raising further questions about the future of the Breuer museum, which now has no room to expand. All but 943 Madison Avenue, immediately next door to the museum, have been deemed contributing structures, making their alteration or demolition difficult if not impossible.

    Property Shark

  • And yet the historic brownstones are in a deteriorating state, with black netting keeping the facades intact. Straus will have to spend a good deal renovating them and will presumably want to add to the structures somehow to help recoup his expenses.

    Property Shark

  • Yet experts seem to agree that the mansion around the corner from the museum is too unique to be altered in any significant way, nor does it need as much work to be occupied as a residential structure. Perhaps the bigger question is whether it will still be decades before anything is ever done with these buildings.

    Property Shark

  • One possible approach for Straus could be following the lead of Aby Rosen, who spent years trying to get a Norman Foster designed addition atop the Park-Bernet Galleries, two blocks north of the Whitney. This proposal, for a 14-story tower, was roundly denied by the commission in 2006.

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  • Last year, the commission approved a more appropriate five-story addition to 980 Madison Avenue. It seems possible, given the past approvals for the Whitney, that Straus might be able to achieve something similar with his new brownstones.

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