Sorry, you need to enable JavaScript to visit this website.

​The Whitney’s west-side story

A great New York museum gets a new home, courtesy of Renzo Piano

Olivia Weinberg | May/June 2015

The Whitney has gone west. After 49 years squashed between the swish hotels and designer shops on Madison Avenue, America’s leading museum of its own art has finally outgrown its concrete cube. In need of more than just a bigger café, it has moved across and downtown, to the Meatpacking District, next door to the wildly successful High Line.

The new building, by Renzo Piano, is less space-age than you might expect. Piano’s creations, from the Shard in London to the Pompidou in Paris, tend to go against the grain with odd shapes, misleading angles and unfamiliar materials, but the new Whitney is more industrial. There are no voluptuous wiggles or colourful pipes that snake around the outside walls. Built from stone, reclaimed pinewood and low-iron glass, the building feels rigid and functional. But, like any good artist, Piano has responded to the setting and has created a stylish, asymmetrical form, in tune with the neighbourhood.

The inside is more unusual. Spread across 220,000 square feet, the museum is made up of indoor and outdoor galleries that flood it with light and life. The exhibition space has grown by a whopping 60%, so that works long locked in the vaults will be back where they belong, on the walls. The reopening exhibition is a sprawling display of the permanent collection, the biggest to date, with 650 works by 400 artists. “America is Hard to See” will show the diversity of American art since 1900, and “make  a conscious  effort to challenge assumptions”.

The main entrance on Gansevoort Street is close to the southern end of the High Line, so Piano has created a clever sequence of rooftop terraces and external walkways that double as vantage points over the park. There is an education centre, with classrooms, a theatre that opens onto the Hudson and a high-tech conservation lab – all new features for the Whitney. That’s what you get for $422m. ~ OLIVIA WEINBERG
The Whitney 99 Gansevoort St, New York, NY 10014, opens May 1st


Exhibitions AT A GLANCE

Sir Frederic Leighton’s Flaming June (Frick Collection, New York, June 9th to Sept 6th). “Flaming June”, c.1895, is an elegant painting of a female figure in a translucent orange dress based on works by Michelangelo. Her long limbs stretch across the picture plain and her hair spills over the chair she is slumped into. This is a one-off chance to see Leighton’s magnum opus, a masterpiece that rarely leaves Puerto Rico. It will be hung in the centre of the Frick’s Oval Room and will be surrounded by four full-length portraits by Whistler.

Matisse and the moderns (Art Gallery of NSW, Sydney, Apr 25th to Oct 25th). “Jazz”, 1947, is one of the most treasured works of the 20th century. A limited-edition artist’s book, packed with colour and character: you can see why the Australians have snapped it up and made it the centrepiece of another Matisse master class.

Grayson Perry: Provincial Punk (Turner, Margate, May 23rd to Sept 13th). Perry is a paradox – both male and female, cosy and risqué – and so is the title of his latest show. It charts his rise from the spirited young artist of the 1980s, to the maker of 90s pieces like “Sex and Drugs and Earthenware”, 1995 (pictured), to today’s distinguished commentator on society. Expect a show that digs deep.

Barbara Hepworth: Sculpture for a Modern World (Tate Britain, London, June 24th to Oct 25th). Hepworth’s sculptures work best in spaces where they can mingle with nature, but a roof makes things a whole lot easier. From bronzes and textiles to collages and photographs, plus work by Epstein, Moore and Nicholson,  this is a tribute to one of Britain’s finest artists.

Gold and Ivory: Paris, Pisa, Florence, Siena. 1250-1320 (Louvre-Lens, Nord-Pas de Calais, May 27th to Sept 28th). French and Italian artists have always influenced each other, particularly in the 13th century. This opulent show, bursting with jewelled enamels, illuminated manuscripts and gold-leaf paintings, offers a day trip back to the start of the Renaissance.

Carsten Höller: Decision (Hayward Gallery, London, June 10th to Sept 6th). A typical Höller extravaganza: part art, part science, part bonkers. Afterwards, the Hayward is due to close for a two-year revamp – in anticipation of the damage?

Revolution of the Eye: Modern Art and the Birth of American Television (Jewish Museum, New York, May 1st to Sept 20th). Avant-garde artists helped shape the look and feel of TV from the 1940s to the 1970s. And TV returned the favour by giving them a vast audience, almost overnight. This historical overview features work by Lichtenstein, Duchamp, Calder and Man Ray. ~ OW

Readers' comments

Sign in or Create your account to join the discussion.