On May 1, the Whitney Museum of American Art will finally open the doors to its new, downtown location, trading the hauteur of its old Upper East Side neighborhood for the glamorous grit of the Meatpacking District.
Of course, the move has as much to do with space as anything else. When the Whitney settled in its previous Madison Avenue building, in 1966, it only had 2,000 works in its permanent collection. Today, it has 21,000.
The new Renzo Piano-designed structure — an asymmetrical, tiered, white building that echoes the neighborhood’s industrial flavor — will nearly double the exhibition space, with both outdoor and indoor galleries, as well as two full floors devoted to the museum’s holdings. Yet, it means much more.
“[The galleries] will be a gamechanger for the Whitney,” said Chief Curator Donna De Salvo in a statement. “They will afford a level of space unprecedented in our history to display both iconic works and present provocative new narratives of art in the United States.”
And what better place to present provocative new narratives — to shake up the Whitney’s own sleepy image — than the base of the High Line, Manhattan’s once-seediest spot turned tourist destination du jour?
"It is certainly a daring move,” says Paula Cooper, whose eponymous gallery moved into the surrounding area back in 1996. “The Whitney has always been thought of as a more conservative institution, [but] this move and the programming of the past couple of years has shown that it is on a more exploratory and exuberant path."