First Lady of the United States Michelle Obama will be the special guest (and speaker) at the Dedication Ceremony and Official Ribbon-Cutting for the new downtown New York City home of the Whitney Museum of American Art (99 Gansevoort Street, New York, NY 10014) on Thursday, April 30, 2015, at 11 am. The Whitney’s new building returns the Museum to downtown Manhattan where it was founded in 1930 by artist and philanthropist Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney. The 220,000-square-foot building in the Meatpacking District doubles the Museum’s exhibition space, enabling the Whitney to present its innovative exhibitions and programs in the context of the world’s foremost collection of twentieth-century and contemporary American art. The building opens to the public on Friday, May 1, 2015.
Other distinguished guests and speakers will include Bill de Blasio, Mayor of the City of New York; Adam D. Weinberg, Alice Pratt Brown Director, Whitney Museum of American Art; Renzo Piano, architect; Chairman and Founding Partner, Renzo Piano Building Workshop; Robert J. Hurst, Co-Chairman, Whitney Board of Trustees; Brooke Garber Neidich, Co-Chairman, Whitney Board of Trustees; Neil G. Bluhm, President, Whitney Board of Trustees and Flora Miller Biddle, Honorary Chairman, Whitney Board of Trustees, and granddaughter of Museum founder Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney. Other participants will include Matana Roberts, composer and alto saxophonist, performing a commissioned musical work, Incantation, The Wooster Group, renowned experimental theater company, performing the ribbon-cutting, and teens from the Whitney’s Youth Insights Program. Admittance to the ceremony is by invitation only but a live webcast will be available to the public at whitney.org/Dedication.
Situated between the High Line and the Hudson River in Manhattan’s Meatpacking District, the new building will vastly increase the Whitney’s exhibition and programming space, offering the most expansive display ever of its unsurpassed collection of modern and contemporary American art.
Designed by architect Renzo Piano, the new building will include approximately 50,000 square feet of indoor galleries and 13,000 square feet of outdoor exhibition space and terraces facing the High Line. An expansive gallery for special exhibitions will be approximately 18,000 square feet in area, making it the largest column-free museum gallery in New York City. Additional exhibition space includes a lobby gallery (accessible free of charge), two floors for the permanent collection, and a special exhibitions gallery on the top floor.
According to Mr. Piano, “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. 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 dramatically cantilevered entrance along Gansevoort Street will shelter an 8,500-square-foot outdoor plaza or “largo,” a public gathering space steps away from the southern entrance to the High Line. The building also will include an education center offering state-of-the-art classrooms; a multi-use black box theater for film, video, and performance with an adjacent outdoor gallery; a 170-seat theater with stunning views of the Hudson River; and a Works on Paper Study Center, Conservation Lab, and Library Reading Room. The classrooms, theater, and study center are all firsts for the Whitney.
A retail shop on the ground-floor level will contribute to the busy street life of the area. A ground-floor restaurant and top-floor cafe will be conceived and operated by renowned restaurateur Danny Meyer and his Union Square Hospitality Group, which operated +Untitled+, the restaurant in the Whitney’s Marcel Breuer building on the Upper East Side, until programming there concluded on October 19.
Mr. Piano’s design takes a strong and strikingly asymmetrical form—one that responds to the industrial character of the neighboring loft buildings and overhead railway while asserting a contemporary, sculptural presence. The upper stories of the building overlook the Hudson River on its west, and step back gracefully from the elevated High Line Park to its east.
The campaign for the new Whitney goes far beyond the creation of a new museum facility that will showcase and safeguard the Museum’s irreplaceable collection. It is an investment in future generations of artists and the growing audiences who will engage with their work.
The campaign commenced quietly in January 2007 with extraordinary support from the Board of Trustees. The American Art Foundation, under President Leonard A. Lauder, launched the campaign with a transformational leadership gift of $125 million for endowment, helping to secure our future operations in the Museum downtown. The City of New York, whose partnership and commitment made it possible to purchase the land for the Museum, has also appropriated funds for the construction of the new building. The State of New York provided significant and early support of the architectural design. The campaign’s success to date is also the result of the many individuals who have been so generous with their early support. With this extraordinary leadership start, the Museum broke ground on May 24, 2011 and began the transformation of the Whitney, and of the downtown cultural scene. At the press preview held April 23rd, it was announced that $752 million (99% of a projected $760 million) of the campaign goal to fund the new building and it future operations has been achieved. The breakdown of the funds are as follows:
New Building Project Costs ($422 million):Within over 200,000 square feet, the Museum has increased its gallery space by 60% and triple its total space; Endowment ($225 million) An effort to increase the endowment, which was (and is) critical to securing the financial foundation of the Whitney’s new home and Capacity-Building ($113 million): Providing support to ensure dynamic artistic and educational programming is essential while building the Museum downtown.
The first exhibition on view will be an unprecedented selection of works from the Museum’s renowned permanent collection. Setting forth a distinctly new narrative, America Is Hard to See presents fresh perspectives on the Whitney’s collection and reflects upon art in the United States with over 600 works by some 400 artists, spanning the period from about 1900 to the present. The exhibition—its title is taken from a poem by Robert Frost and also used by the filmmaker Emile de Antonio for one of his political documentaries—is the most ambitious display to date of the Whitney’s collection.
Delving deep into the Whitney’s holdings, America Is Hard to See examines the themes, ideas, beliefs, visions, and passions that have preoccupied and galvanized American artists over the past one hundred and fifteen years. Reflecting the way artists think and work, all mediums are presented together without hierarchy. Numerous pieces that have rarely, if ever, been shown before will appear alongside familiar icons, in a conscious effort to challenge assumptions about the American art canon. The majority of the exhibition will be on view through September 27, 2015, but some floors will close on a staggered schedule before and after that date.
America Is Hard to See is organized by a team of Whitney curators, led by Donna De Salvo, Chief Curator and Deputy Director for Programs, including Carter E. Foster, Steven and Ann Ames Curator of Drawing; Dana Miller, Curator of the Permanent Collection; and Scott Rothkopf, Nancy and Steve Crown Family Curator and Associate Director of Programs; with Jane Panetta, Assistant Curator; Catherine Taft, Assistant Curator; and Mia Curran, Curatorial Assistant.
Following this distinctly Whitney narrative will be an array of exhibitions devoted to the work of Archibald Motley, Frank Stella, Laura Poitras, and David Wojnarowicz, as well as a show of hundreds of works gifted to the Whitney and the Centre Pompidou in Paris by Thea Westreich Wagner and Ethan Wagner.
“The Whitney has been steadily building a remarkable world-class collection of American art since our founding by Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney in 1930, much of which has remained largely unseen,” said Adam D. Weinberg. “This transformative moment—the opening of our beautiful new home downtown—calls for a fresh look at ourselves and is the perfect occasion for us to celebrate our collection, the essence of who we are.”
After the dedication and ribbon-cutting ceremony on Thursday, the celebration continues with an official opening on Friday and the Whitney Block Party (sponsored by Macy’s) on Saturday. Throughout the day, booths designed by a diverse group of contemporary artists and community organizations will offer activities for a range of audiences, including karaoke, map making, and performance workshops. Large-scale acts on the main stage will include all-ages performances, including puppetry, dance, music, and poetry. These distinctive projects embody the Museum’s multidisciplinary and inclusive approach to contemporary art. The Whitney Block Party is free and open to the public—no reservations are required for Block Party events and performances. The festivities will encourage audiences to experience the new location and new architecture as part of the Museum’s active engagement with artists and the city.