Returning to the Greenwich Village area after 60 years uptown, The Whitney has become the West Village’s newest and most exciting neighbor.
Born in 1875, Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney was an ambitious artist and art patron who was born into the wealthy Vanderbilt family and married into the equally well-heeled Whitney family. Although a devoted and enthusiastic sculptress, she felt both her wealth and her gender played a part in dampening her success in the arts, and neither her family nor her husband were supportive of her endeavors. These factors spurred her important work as a supporter of the arts throughout her lifetime, and she was particularly active in supporting female artists. She was an avid collector of works by American artists, funded exhibitions of emerging artists, and even underwrote an arts magazine.
After the turn of the century, she established the Whitney Studio Gallery and the Whitney Studio Club in the West Village. And, in 1931, she opened the Whitney Museum of Art after being spurned by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The Met had rejected her offer to bequeath them her collection of more than 500 works acquired over 25 years. Continuing her support of emerging artists in her own country, the Whitney Museum would focus solely on American art — a revolutionary concept at the time. The first location opened at 8 West Eighth Street, but by 1954, the museum had relocated, first to West 54th Street and later to the Breuer Building on the Upper East Side, where it remained until 2014. In an ironic turn of events, 85 years after rejecting Whitney’s original endowment, The Metropolitan Museum of Art now houses its modern and contemporary collections at the Whitney-owned Breuer building.
The Breuer Building at Madison and East 75th (Image: Wikimedia)
The new Whitney Museum on Gansevoort Street — at the foot of the High Line’s southernmost end — returns Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney’s arts center to its Greenwich Village roots. The new building fulfills a long desired expansion that had been pursued in futile fits and starts on the Upper East Side where the Breuer building could only display 150 works at a time. And, in stark contrast to Breuer’s brutalist and near-windowless structure, the Renzo Piano-designed downtown structure embraces light with walls of windows and large swaths of outdoor spaces across its six-story footprint. The building includes 50,000 square feet of indoor galleries, 13,000 square feet of outdoor exhibition space, and terraces, plus classrooms, theaters, a conservation lab, reading room, retail shop and an 8,500-square-foot outdoor plaza. Clad in steel and glass, the cantilevered entrance and jutting terraces call to mind the neighboring High Line.
The Whitney Museum at 99 Gansevoort Street (Image: Wikimedia)
The massive permanent collection, which has grown to include over 22,000 works by more than 3,000 artists, now resides on two full floors in the Gansevoort space. Pieces by Diane Arbus, Nan Goldin, Jasper Johns, Willem de Kooning, and Edward Hopper are currently on display. In fact, the Whitney holds the largest collection of Edward Hopper’s works anywhere.
In addition to the substantial permanent collection and a full calendar of upcoming exhibitions, this year’s most anticipated art event will be the triumphant return of the famed Whitney Biennial, which was pushed back a year due to the museum’s relocation. Running from March 17 to June 11, this year’s biennial will feature works from 63 participants “ranging from emerging to well-established individuals and collectives working in painting, sculpture, drawing, installation, film and video, photography, activism, performance, music, and video game design.” Be sure to visit the sprawling new Whitney complex during what The New York Times declares “the pre-eminent biennial in this country.”