Many New Yorkers think of the Whitney as an uptown institution, but it actually got its start when founder and sculptor Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney opened the Whitney Studio in Greenwich Village in 1931. The museum has now found its way back to Lower Manhattan(-ish) with its new 200,000-square-foot space sandwiched between the High Line and the Hudson River. Designed by Pritzker prize-winning architect Renzo Piano and New York-based Cooper, Robertson & Partners, the tiered and terraced metal and glass structure features a wide range of programming including indoor and outdoor galleries, an education center, a black box theater, a 170-seat theater with views of the Hudson River, a retail shop, a top-floor cafe, and Danny Meyer and Chef Michael Anthony’s new restaurant, Untitled, on the ground floor.
The $422 million building, which first broke ground in May 2011, is in the process of earning a LEED-Gold rating with the USGBC. If successful, the achievement would make the art museum the first one in New York City to be certified LEED-Gold. The Whitney’s eco-conscious measures include a green roof and plaza-level planters to mitigate rainwater runoff, a green housekeeping plan to limit the use of harmful chemicals and the use of 20% recycled materials in its construction.
“The design for the new museum emerges equally from a close study of the Whitney’s needs and from a response to this remarkable site,” said architect Renzo Piano. “We wanted to draw on its vitality and at the same time enhance its rich character. The first big gesture, then, is the cantilevered entrance, which transforms the area outside the building into a large, sheltered public space. At this gathering place beneath the High Line, visitors will see through the building entrance and the large windows on the west side to the Hudson River beyond. Here, all at once, you have the water, the park, the powerful industrial structures and the exciting mix of people, brought together and focused by this new building and the experience of art.”
The Red Smile by Alex Katz and Giant Fagends by Claes Oldenburg are two works that are on display at the Whitney as part of its inaugural collection, America is Hard to See.
Of course, not everyone is in love with the new Whitney. New York Magazine’s Justin Davidson calls it an “awkward kit of protruding parts and tilting surfaces [that]… might have arrived in an Ikea flat pack and then been prodigiously misassembled.” New York Times architecture critic Michael Kimmelman was a bit more kind, saying that the building “isn’t a masterpiece. But it is a deft, serious achievement, a signal contribution to downtown and the city’s changing cultural landscape.” And despite its LEED aspirations, the new building is catching heat from some NYC green activists, who are suspicious of its proximity to a high-pressure natural gas pipeline.
Whatever your thoughts on the new museum’s design, we suggest taking advantage of its public programming, like tomorrow’s free block party with complimentary admission to its galleries from 10:30 am to 10 pm.
Photos ©Yuka Yoneda