All new Whit­ney Mu­seum opens in NY


Four years af­ter break­ing ground, New York’s much-loved Whit­ney Mu­seum for Amer­i­can art reopens next Fri­day in a fu­tur­is­tic US$422 mil­lion (NT$12.96 bil­lion) premises built by Ital­ian ar­chi­tect Renzo Pi­ano.

The cel­e­brated mu­seum of mod­ern and con­tem­po­rary Amer­i­can art has turned its back on the bour­geois sat­is­fac­tion of the Up­per East Side to move down town to the achingly cool Meat­pack­ing Dis­trict.

Sand­wiched be­tween the Hud­son river and the High Line walk­way, the new nine-story build­ing of con­crete, steel and glass is more than dou­ble the size of its pre­vi­ous premises on Madi­son Av­enue.

Its asym­met­ric, an­gled style re­flects the industrial vibe of the neigh­bor­hood. Its high ceil­ings, re­claimed pine floors, vast win­dows and large ter­races fill the build­ing with light and of­fer spec­tac­u­lar views across Man­hat­tan and the Hud­son.

Europe-based Pi­ano, who fa­mously built the Pom­pi­dou Cen­tre in Paris in the 1970s, said he was af­ter a sim­i­lar ef­fect.

The vast, glass hall, which the Ital­ian calls “the lobby pi­azza” was de­signed “to let peo­ple come in, not be in­tim­i­dated” and feel wel­come he ex­plained at a news con­fer­ence.

“You are en­ter­ing a new world, the world of art and free­dom,” he said. “Art is about free­dom.”

Free World

“I hope you will feel that the build­ing is de­signed to fol­low that free­dom, to make that free­dom vis­i­ble.”

Be­sides the ex­hi­bi­tion rooms and a huge space un­en­cum­bered by struc­tural col­umns, the Whit­ney has an ed­u­ca­tion cen­ter, li­brary, 170-seat au­di­to­rium, con­ser­va­tion cen­ter, cafe and restau­rant.

The en­tire mu­seum, which some say looks a bit like an oil tanker, cov­ers 220,000 square feet (20,500 square me­ters).

It has 40,000 square feet of in­door ex­hi­bi­tion space and 13,000 feet of out­door ter­race gal­leries.

“This is a trans­for­ma­tive mo­ment for the Whit­ney,” said mu­seum direc­tor Adam Wein­berg.

Larger and more flex­i­ble gal­leries of­fer more op­por­tu­ni­ties than ever be­fore, al­lows the Whit­ney to show far more of its per­ma­nent col­lec­tion, and use the out­doors for sculp­tures and per­for­mances.

Wein­berg called it a “site for dis­cov­ery and risk tak­ing. Here the most im­por­tant, chal­leng­ing and coura­geous artists of our time will have a con­stant pres­ence.”

The Whit­ney, which ex­hibits only Amer­i­can art from the 20th and 21st cen­turies, was founded in 1930 by artist and bene­fac­tor Gertrude Van­der­bilt Whit­ney and has a per­ma­nent col­lec­tion of more than 22,000 works by more than 3,000 artists.

Its in­au­gu­ral ex­hi­bi­tion “Amer­ica is Hard to See” opens May 1 and runs un­til Sept. 27, ex­plor­ing the themes, ideas and pas­sions that have pre­oc­cu­pied Amer­i­can artists from 1900 un­til to­day.

AIDS, war, iden­tity and racial iden­tity are just some of the is­sues cov­ered by some of the more than 600 works by 400 artists will fill ever in­door and out­door ex­hi­bi­tion space.

Re­turn­ing to its Roots

A quar­ter of the works have rarely if ever pre­vi­ously gone on public dis­play.

The ex­hi­bi­tion is grouped into 23 themes which un­fold chrono­log­i­cally, cul­mi­nat­ing with the 1960s un­til the present day.

Through can­vases, col­lages, pho­to­graphs, fur­ni­ture, videos, even vac­uum clean­ers and a huge patch­work of cud­dly toys, it tells the story of Amer­i­can art.

The cost of the US$422 mil­lion build­ing was fi­nanced over­whelm­ing by pri­vate dona­tions. Bob Hurst, co-chair­man of the board of trustees said the mu­seum ex­ceeded its cam­paign goal of US$760 mil­lion.

The Whit­ney bought the land from the city, which also al­lo­cated US$55 mil­lion to the project un­der pre­vi­ous bil­lion­aire mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Neil Bluhm, pres­i­dent of the board, said that in mov­ing to the Meat­pack­ing Dis­trict the mu­seum was re­turn­ing to its roots just “a few blocks” from the site of the first Whit­ney.

In an area packed with art gal­leries, designer bou­tiques and fash­ion­able restau­rants, the Whit­ney of­fers views south to the Statue of Lib­erty, east to Man­hat­tan and west across the Hud­son.

“It places our great Amer­i­can art mu­seum firmly among New York City cul­tural and his­toric icons,” said Bluhm.

The mu­seum will be open six days a week, closed on Tues­days. Tick­ets are US$22 for adults and free for those younger than 18.

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