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Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg Joins Whitney Museum of American Art and Architect Renzo Piano to Break Ground For The Museum’s New Building in Downtown Manhattan Print E-mail
Tuesday, 24 May 2011 14:05


Celebrating a defining moment for the premier institution of modern and contemporary American art, and a landmark achievement in the public-private revitalization of downtown Manhattan, the Whitney Museum of American Art and the City of New York today broke ground for the Whitney’s new museum building on Gansevoort Street in the Meatpacking District. Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg joined Adam D. Weinberg, the Whitney’s Alice Pratt Brown Director, for a ceremony animated by music and performance, held before an invited audience of some 500 guests at the site of the Whitney’s future building, at the southern entrance to the High Line.

Joining the Mayor and Mr. Weinberg for the ceremony were Christine C. Quinn, Speaker of the New York City Council; Scott M. Stringer, Manhattan Borough President; Whitney Board of Trustees Co-Chairs Robert J. Hurst and Brooke Garber Neidich; Whitney Board President Neil G. Bluhm; Flora Miller Biddle, Honorary Chairman and granddaughter of Whitney Museum founder Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney; and world-renowned architect of the new nine-story, 200,000-square-foot building, Renzo Piano. Other City officials in attendance included First Deputy Mayor Patricia E. Harris, Deputy Mayor Robert K. Steel, Cultural Affairs Commissioner Kate D. Levin, Chair of the City Planning Commission Amanda M. Burden, Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe, Councilman Dan Garodnick, and EDC President Seth W. Pinsky.

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Scheduled to open in 2015, the downtown building will, for the first time, allow for a comprehensive view of the Whitney’s unsurpassed collection of modern and contemporary American art. It will devote equal space to the Museum’s widely influential special exhibitions and artist projects, as well as provide state-of-the-art facilities for enhanced education and performing arts programs, all within one of New York’s most vibrant neighborhoods. The project, which is expected to be New York City’s first certified LEED-Silver art museum, is to be built on a site acquired from the City of New York. To date, the Whitney has raised $508 million of its $720 million project budget, which includes funds for construction and endowment.

To herald the start of the ceremony, New York’s preeminent percussion ensemble So Percussion performed a passage from Drumming by Steve Reich, a composer who has been closely associated with the Whitney for many years. In keeping with the Whitney’s tradition of presenting pioneering performing arts, the groundbreaking itself was set into motion by a specially commissioned piece, Breaking Ground, by Elizabeth Streb, performed by Ms. Streb and STREB Extreme Action Company. In Breaking Ground, choreographer Elizabeth Streb, wearing a helmet, stood beneath a barrel filled with dirt. Six dancers dove boldly, one by one, through a series of panes of glass as dirt rained down from the barrel onto Ms. Streb, creating a pile around the artist that was then shoveled by Mayor Bloomberg and Mr. Weinberg.

“The new Whitney Museum will be New York City’s newest world-class cultural destination in one of the City’s most dynamic and distinctive locations,” said Mayor Bloomberg. “Positioned at the foot of the High Line in the Meatpacking District, the museum will strengthen the ongoing revitalization of an area that is fast-becoming one of the most vibrant in New York City. New Yorkers and visitors from around the world have flocked to the High Line since its opening two years ago, and the Whitney will be a perfect addition to the neighborhood.”

The Whitney’s director Adam D. Weinberg stated, “Today, we begin to create the Whitney of the future, an aspirational space where contemporary artists can realize their visions and audiences can connect deeply with art. We are enormously grateful to the City of New York, the Board of Trustees, our far-sighted donors, and our master architect, Renzo Piano, for bringing us to this decisive moment.”

Whitney Co-chair Robert J. Hurst commented, “The beginning of construction, made possible by the continuing success of our capital campaign, confirms that for many decades to come, the Whitney will remain at the very center of artistic activity in New York City and the nation as a whole.” Co-chair Brooke Garber Neidich said, “We are now blocks away from the place where Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney founded this institution, and even closer to her vision of a museum that is a home to innovative contemporary artists.”

The groundbreaking ceremony was at the center of a nine-day series of celebratory events for the Whitney’s new building. These events began with the American Art Award and Groundbreaking Gala on May 19 and continued on May 21 with a full day of free community activities for families, children, and neighbors in the Meatpacking District. Activities included a sketch tour of the High Line, performances by STREB Extreme Action Company and the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, an exhibition of artworks made by teenagers in the Whitney’s Youth Insights program, a mural-painting project, and an interactive walking tour led by artist Lize Mogel, based on her special map of the Meatpacking District. Events to come include the Whitney Art Party and Auction: The Groundbreakers tonight; an exhibition, Designing the Whitney of the Future, about the architectural design, opening on May 26; and a celebratory day of free admission at Whitney’s Madison Avenue home on May 27. The groundbreaking also follows shortly after the announcement of a multi-year agreement, in principle, between the Whitney and The Metropolitan Museum of Art, in which the Met will present exhibitions and educational programming at the Whitney’s uptown Marcel Breuer building on Madison Avenue, beginning in 2015. The two museums also will seek to collaborate on collections sharing, publications and other education activities. 

Design Highlights

According to architect Renzo 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 new Whitney building will include more than 50,000 square feet of indoor galleries and 13,000 square feet of outdoor exhibition space on a series of rooftops facing the High Line, providing long-awaited opportunities to show more of the Whitney’s collection in tandem with temporary exhibitions. The collection has grown from about 2,000 works at the time of the building’s opening, in 1966, to more than 19,000 works today.

An expansive gallery for temporary exhibitions will be approximately 18,000 square feet in area, making it the largest column-free museum gallery in New York City. Gallery space for ground-floor exhibitions (accessible free of charge), two floors for the permanent collection, and contemporary artists’ projects on the top floor will total approximately 32,000 square feet.

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 new building will engage the Whitney directly with the bustling community of artists, gallerists, students, educators, entrepreneurs, and residents in the Meatpacking District, Chelsea, and Greenwich Village, where the Museum was founded by Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney in 1930.

The building also will include an Education Center offering dedicated space for 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 double-height views of the Hudson River; and a Works on Paper Study Center, large art Conservation Lab, and Library Reading Room. The classrooms, theater, and study center are all firsts for the Whitney. As well, a retail shop on the ground-floor level will contribute to the vibrant street life of the area.

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 will stretch toward the Hudson River on the west side and step back gracefully from the elevated park of the High Line on the east side. Renzo Piano Building Workshop is designing the building in collaboration with New York-based architects Cooper, Robertson & Partners.

The Neighborhood

The Meatpacking District is a twenty-square-block neighborhood on the far West Side of Manhattan. Surrounding the meatpacking plants just north of Gansevoort Street are some of New York’s most notable restaurants, bars, fashion boutiques, clubs and hotels. The neighborhood is bordered to the north and east by Chelsea, renowned for its art galleries, cultural organizations, and educational institutions. To the south is the West Village and its nineteenth-century townhouses, charming streets, and unique shops. To the west is the Hudson River. The High Line is New York City’s newest and most unusual public park. Located thirty feet above street level on a 1930s freight railway, the High Line runs from Gansevoort Street in the Meatpacking District to 34th Street in Clinton/Hell’s Kitchen. It features an integrated landscape combining meandering concrete pathways with indigenous plantings. Section One, from Gansevoort Street to 20th Street, opened in June 2009; Section Two, from West 20th Street to West 30th Street, is scheduled to open next month. When all sections are complete, the park will be more than a mile long.

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Last Updated on Tuesday, 24 May 2011 16:24
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