Whitney Museum from the High Line in 2015
|Location||99 Gansevoort Street, Lower Manhattan, New York City|
|Founder||Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney|
|Director||Adam D. Weinberg|
|Public transit access||Subway: at 14th Street – Eighth Avenue |
Bus: M11, M12, M14A, M14D
The Whitney Museum of American Art, known informally as the "Whitney", is an art museum in Manhattan. It was founded in 1930 by Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney (1875–1942), a wealthy and prominent American socialite and art patron after whom it is named.
The Whitney focuses on 20th- and 21st-century American art. Its permanent collection comprises more than 23,000 paintings, sculptures, drawings, prints, photographs, films, videos, and artifacts of new media by more than 3,400 artists. It places particular emphasis on exhibiting the work of living artists as well as maintaining an extensive permanent collection of important pieces from the first half of the last century. The museum's Annual and Biennial exhibitions have long been a venue for younger and lesser-known artists whose work is showcased there.
From 1966 to 2014, the Whitney was at 945 Madison Avenue on Manhattan's Upper East Side in a building designed by Marcel Breuer and Hamilton P. Smith. The museum closed in October 2014 to relocate to a new building designed by Renzo Piano at 99 Gansevoort Street in the West Village/Meatpacking District neighborhoods of Lower Manhattan; it reopened at the new location on May 1, 2015.
Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, the museum's namesake and founder, was a well-regarded sculptor as well as a serious art collector. As a patron of the arts, she had already achieved some success with the Whitney Studio Club, a New York–based exhibition space she created in 1918 to promote the works of avant-garde and unrecognized American artists. Whitney favored the radical art of the American artists of the Ashcan School such as John French Sloan, George Luks and Everett Shinn, as well as others such as Edward Hopper, Stuart Davis, Charles Demuth, Charles Sheeler, and Max Weber.
With the aid of her assistant, Juliana R. Force, Whitney collected nearly 700 works of American art. In 1929, she offered to donate over 500 to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, but the museum declined the gift. This, along with the apparent preference for European modernism at the recently opened Museum of Modern Art, led Whitney to start her own museum, exclusively for American art, in 1929.
Whitney Library archives from 1928 reveal that during this time the Studio Club used the gallery space of Wilhelmina Weber Furlong of the Art Students League to exhibit traveling shows featuring modernist work. In 1931, architect Noel L. Miller converted three row houses on West 8th Street in Greenwich Village—one of which, 8 West 8th Street (Manhattan) had been the location of the Studio Club—to be the museum's home as well as a residence for Whitney. Force became the museum's first director, and under her guidance it concentrated on displaying the works of new and contemporary American artists.
In 1954, the museum left its original location and moved to a small structure on 54th Street connected to and behind the Museum of Modern Art on 53rd Street. On April 15, 1958, a fire on MOMA's second floor that killed one person forced the evacuation of paintings and staff on MOMA's upper floors to the Whitney. Among the paintings evacuated was A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, which was on loan from the Art Institute of Chicago.
In 1961, the Whitney began seeking a site for a larger building. In 1966 it settled at the southeast corner of Madison Avenue and 75th Street on Manhattan's Upper East Side. The building, planned and built 1963–1966 by Marcel Breuer and Hamilton P. Smith in a distinctively modern style, is easily distinguished from the neighboring townhouses by its staircase façade made of granite stones and its external upside-down windows. In 1967, Mauricio Lasansky showed The Nazi Drawings. The exhibition traveled to the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, where it appeared with shows by Louise Nevelson and Andrew Wyeth as the first exhibits in the new museum.
The institution grappled with space problems for decades. From 1973 to 1983 the Whitney operated its first branch at 55 Water Street, a building owned by Harold Uris, who gave the museum a lease for $1 a year. In 1983 Philip Morris International installed a Whitney branch in the lobby of its Park Avenue headquarters. In 1981 the museum opened an exhibition space in Stamford, Connecticut, housed at Champion International. In the late 1980s, the Whitney entered into arrangements with Park Tower Realty, I.B.M. and The Equitable Life Assurance Society of the United States, setting up satellite museums with rotating exhibitions in their buildings' lobbies. Each museum had its own director, with all plans approved by a Whitney committee.
The institution attempted to expand its landmark building in 1978, commissioning UK architects Derek Walker and Norman Foster to design a tall tower alongside it, the first of several proposals from leading architects. But each time the effort was abandoned, because of either the cost or the design or both. To secure additional space for the museum's collections, then-director Thomas N. Armstrong III developed plans for a 10-story, $37.5 million addition to the main building. The proposed addition, designed by Michael Graves and announced in 1985, drew immediate opposition. Graves had proposed demolishing the flanking brownstones down to the East 74th Street corner for a complementary addition. The project gradually lost the support of the museum's trustees, and the plans were dropped in 1989. Between 1995 and 1998, the building underwent a renovation and expansion by Richard Gluckman. In 2001, Rem Koolhaas was commissioned to submit two designs for a $200 million expansion. Those plans were dropped in 2003, causing director Maxwell L. Anderson to resign. New York restaurateur Danny Meyer opened Untitled, a restaurant in the museum, in March 2011. The space was designed by the Rockwell Group.
The Whitney developed a new main building, designed by Renzo Piano, in the West Village and Meatpacking District in lower Manhattan. The new museum, at the intersection of Gansevoort and Washington Streets, was built on a previously city-owned site and marks the southern entrance to the High Line park. Construction began in 2010 and was completed in 2015. It cost $422 million.
The new structure spans 200,000 square feet (19,000 m2) and 8 stories that include the city's largest column-free art gallery spaces, an education center, theater, a conservation lab and a library and reading rooms. Two of the floors are fully devoted to the museum's permanent collection. The only permanent artwork commissioned for the site—its four main elevators—were conceived by Richard Artschwager. The new building's collection comprises over 600 works by over 400 artists. There are observation decks on the 5th, 6th, 7th, and 8th floors linked by an outdoor staircase.
The new building is much more expansive and open than the old ones. As one New York Times review described the building:
The Whitney ... has a series of events spaces at its margins: a flexible auditorium and four large terraces, three of which are linked by an outdoor staircase. ... It has timed tickets that are designed to control crowding, but people may linger longer than expected. After art they can retire to the eighth-floor cafe, the terraces or the lines of comfy leather couches facing glass walls overlooking the Hudson and Greenwich Village at either end of the fifth floor.
The museum needed to raise $760 million for the building and its endowment. In May 2011, the Metropolitan Museum of Art announced it had entered into an agreement to occupy the Madison Avenue building for at least eight years starting in 2015, easing the Whitney's burden of having to finance two large museum spaces. The occupation of the old space was later postponed to 2016.
The museum displays paintings, drawings, prints, sculptures, installation art, video, and photography. Every two years, the museum hosts the Whitney Biennial, an international art show which displays many lesser-known artists new to the American art scene. It has displayed works by many notable artists, and has featured unconventional works such as a 1976 exhibit of live body builders, featuring Arnold Schwarzenegger.
The original 600 works in the permanent collection grew to about 1,300 by 1954 when the second building opened, and to approximately 2,000 with the opening of the Breuer building in 1966. Today the permanent collection contains more than 23,000 works of art by many renowned artists. Artists represented include Josef Albers, Joe Andoe, Donald Baechler, Thomas Hart Benton, Lucile Blanch, Louise Bourgeois, Sonia Gordon Brown, Charles Burchfield, Alexander Calder, Suzanne Caporael, Carolina Caycedo, Ching Ho Cheng, Talia Chetrit, Ann Craven, Anna Craycroft, Dan Christensen, Greg Colson, Susan Crocker, Ronald Davis, Stuart Davis, Mira Dancy, Lindsey Decker, Martha Diamond, Richard Diebenkorn, Daniella Dooling, Arthur Dove, Loretta Dunkelman, William Eggleston, Helen Frankenthaler, Georgia O'Keeffe, Arshile Gorky, Keith Haring, Grace Hartigan, Marsden Hartley, Robert Henri, Carmen Herrera, Eva Hesse, Hans Hofmann, Edward Hopper, Jasper Johns, Corita Kent, Franz Kline, Terence Koh, Willem de Kooning, Lee Krasner, Ronnie Landfield, John Marin, Knox Martin, John McCracken, John McLaughlin, Robert Motherwell, Bruce Nauman, Louise Nevelson, Barnett Newman, Kenneth Noland, Paul Pfeiffer, Jackson Pollock, Larry Poons, Maurice Prendergast, Kenneth Price, Robert Rauschenberg, Man Ray, Mark Rothko, Morgan Russell, Albert Pinkham Ryder, Cindy Sherman, John Sloan, Frank Stella, Andy Warhol, and hundreds of others. A photography collection was begun in 1991.
In addition to its traditional collection the Whitney has a website, Artport, that features "Net Art" that changes regularly. The Whitney will not sell any work by a living artist because it could damage that artist's career. But it will trade a living artist's work for another piece by the same artist.
Theodore Robinson, Etude, (1890)
Maurice Prendergast, Central Park, 1900, (1900)
Robert Henri, Laughing Child, (1907)
Oscar Florianus Bluemner, Old Canal Port, (1914)
Thomas Hart Benton, House in Cubist Landscape, (c. 1915–1920)
George Luks, Armistice Night, (1918)
Edward Hopper, New York Interior, c. 1921
The Frances Mulhall Achilles Library is a research library originally built on the collections of books and papers of founder Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, and the Whitney Museum's first director, Juliana Force. The Library operates in the West Chelsea area of New York City. It contains Special Collections and the Whitney Museum Archives. The Archives contain the Institutional Archives, Research Collections, and Manuscript Collections. The Special Collections consist of artists' books, portfolios, photographs, titles in the Whitney Fellows Artist and Writers Series (1982–2001), posters, and valuable ephemera that relate to the permanent collection. The Institutional Archives include exhibition records, photographs, curatorial research notes, artist's correspondence, audio and video recordings, and trustees' papers from 1912 to the present.
Books and materials in the Library can be accessed in the Museum's database.
The Whitney Independent Study Program (ISP) was founded in 1968 by Ron Clark. The Whitney ISP has helped start the careers of artists, critics, and curators including Jenny Holzer, Andrea Fraser, Julian Schnabel, Kathryn Bigelow, Roberta Smith, and Félix González-Torres, as well as many other well-known cultural producers. The program includes both art history and studio programs. Each year the ISP selects 14 students for the Studio Program (artists), four for the Curatorial Program (curators) and six for the Critical Studies Program (researchers). It is a one-year program that includes both visiting and hired artists, art historians and critics, and involves the reading of theory. Clark remains its director.
As of March 2011, the Whitney's endowment was $207 million; the museum expected to raise $625 million from its capital campaign by 2015. As of June 2016, the endowment had grown to $308 million.
Historically, the operating performance has been essentially breakeven. The museum restricts the use of its endowment fund for yearly operating expenses to 5 percent of the fund's value. The Whitney has historically depended on private collectors and donors for acquisitions of new art. In 2008, Leonard A. Lauder gave the museum $131 million, the biggest donation in the Whitney's history. Donations for new purchases dropped to $1.3 million in 2010 from $2.7 million in 2006.
The museum's director is Adam D. Weinberg (since 2003). Former directors include Maxwell L. Anderson (1998–2003), David A. Ross (1991–1997), Thomas Armstrong III (1974–1990), and Juliana Rieser Force (1931–1948).
For years Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney supported the museum single-handedly, as did her daughter, Flora Whitney Miller, after her, and until 1961 its board was largely family-run. Flora Payne Whitney served as a museum trustee, then as vice president. From 1942 to 1974 she was the museum's president and chair, after which she served as honorary chair until her death in 1986. Her daughter Flora Miller Biddle served as president until 1985. Her book The Whitney Women and the Museum They Made was published in 1999.
In 1961, the need for outside support finally forced the board to add outside trustees, including bankers Roy Neuberger and Arthur Altschul. David Solinger became the Whitney's first outside president in 1966.
The Board of Trustees has come under criticism since November 2018 by groups including Decolonize This Place, the Chinatown Art Brigade, and W.A.G.E., for vice chair Warren B. Kanders' ownership of the company Safariland, which manufactured tear gas used against the late 2018 migrant caravans. 120 scholars and critics published an open letter to the Whitney Museum asking for the removal of Kanders from the Museum board; additional signatories after the letter's initial posting included almost fifty artists who have been selected for the 2019 Whitney Biennial. A series of nine weeks of protest by Decolonize This Place included actions highlighting the oppression of Puerto Rican and Palestinian peoples, among others, whose oppression is connected to the use of weapons manufactured by Kanders' company, Safariland.
On July 17, 2019, calls for Kanders's resignation were renewed following Artforum's publication of an essay, "The Tear Gas Biennial," by Hannah Black, Ciarán Finlayson, and Tobi Haslett. On July 19, four artists (Korakrit Arunanondchai, Meriem Bennani, Nicole Eisenman, and Nicholas Galanin) published a letter, also in Artforum, asking their work to be withdrawn from the exhibition. (The first artist to withdraw was Michael Rakowitz, who withdrew his work before the Biennial opened.) A day later, a second wave of artists (Eddie Arroyo, Christine Sun Kim, Agustina Woodgate, and Forensic Architecture) also withdrew.
On July 25th, 2019, Warren B. Kanders announced his resignation from the Board of Trustees of the Whitney Museum. Kanders cited no wish to play a role in the Museum's demise and urged fellow Trustees to step up and assume leadership of the Whitney.
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