David Zwirner Switches Up Architects for His New Chelsea Gallery

The renowned gallerist is abandoning his original plans for a new gallery, turning instead to friend and frequent collaborator Annabelle Selldorf.

David Zwirner, owner of the eponymous blue-chip art gallery, is changing up his plans for a new Chelsea location. Despite announcing the development of a $50 million headquarters designed by Renzo Piano in 2018, Zwirner is pulling out of the project and turning to architect Annabelle Selldorf for a two-story gallery that will begin construction later this year.

Three photos side by side of two men in suits and woman in black dress
David Zwirner, Renzo Piano and Annabelle Selldorf. Getty Images

Zwirner, who already has multiple locations in Chelsea, was initially going to add to his roster of galleries with a five-story, 50,000-square-foot space at 540 West 21st Street—part of a large development from Uri Chaitchik’s Casco Development. Now, due to financial issues the developer is facing due to Covid-19, Zwirner is abandoning the project, as reported by the New York Times.

While famed architect Piano was selected by Casco Development to head the design of Zwirner’s new gallery, the art dealer is now tapping Selldorf, a long-time collaborator of Zwirner’s, to design a two-story, 18,000-square-foot gallery and offices at 533 W 19th Street. She is also behind new offices totaling at 36,000-square-feet, which opened in June at 520 W 20th Street. “This is a classic case of making lemonade out of lemons,” Zwirner told the New York Times.

Who is Renzo Piano?

The Zwirner gallery was scheduled to be the first-ever commercial gallery project for Piano, who is best known for his designs of museums around the globe. The Italian architect’s first major project came to fruition in the 1970s, when Piano and his business partner Richard Rogers, both relatively unknown at the time, won an international competition to design the Centre Pompidou. Piano went on to win the Pritzker Prize in 1998, with the jury comparing his curiosity and problem-solving skills to “those earlier masters of his native land, Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo.”

Exterior shot of the Centre Pompidou, covered in metal scaffolding
The Centre Pompidou in Paris. Corbis via Getty Images

While Piano, 85, is behind more art museums than any other living architect, he didn’t initially have any interest in designing art spaces. “They were a place only for the few,” Piano told Art Forum in 2018, describing museums as “sacred spaces, places of ceremony and ritual.”

His high-tech and light-filled designs transforms art institutions into places of social and cultural gatherings. “A white box kills art,” he said. “When I make a museum, I’m making a place of shared values, a place for people to meet.” He is now one of the most celebrated museum designers in the world, with dozens of notable projects to his name, including The Shard, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

Who is Annabelle Selldorf?

Like Piano, Selldorf’s work consists primarily of projects related to institutions in the art world. But her resume consists of smaller-scale projects, with an emphasis on gallery design and a more elegant, minimal style. The German architect has long collaborated with Iwan and Manuela Wirth, the couple behind Hauser & Wirth gallery, most recently designing a new gallery space at 542 West 22nd Street in Manhattan. She has also designed locations for Gladstone Gallery and spaces at Gagosian Gallery, Frieze and the Venice Art Biennale, in addition to  homes for artists like Cindy Sherman and David Salle and a studio for Jeff Koons.

Photo of the outside of a tall brick building with long windows
The Neue Galerie in New York City. Ben Hider/Getty Images

But her most notable partnerships have been with Zwirner. The two are both from Cologne, Germany, and have shared a close friendship since first meeting at a New York party in the 1980s. “I fell immediately in love with her; she was gloriously beautiful,” Zwirner told the Gentlewoman magazine in 2014. “I’ve tried working with other architects, and they were authoritative, but they just couldn’t listen.” After redesigning the interior of one of his galleries in 1990, Selldorf has worked on numerous Zwirner locations over the years and is the designer behind his current space on W 20th Street.

While she hasn’t worked on nearly as many museums as Piano, the German architect has designed art institutions like New York City’s Neue Galerie and the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego. She is also currently working on an expansion at the Frick Collection, and in February was selected to reinstall galleries and public spaces at the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

David Zwirner Switches Up Architects for His New Chelsea Gallery