New York

By Tim Cooke

So, the crowds are pouring into New York’s latest major gallery. The Whitney Museum of American Art has just re-opened in a new location bursting with significance. If the programming is called right, this is the gallery that is going to set the pace in the Big Apple for the next few years. And if not in numbers (the Whitney has always attracted fewer visitors than the Met, MOMA and the Guggenheim), then certainly in attitude.

Outdoor area, Whitney Museum of American Art

Outdoor area, Whitney Museum of American Art (Photograph by Nic Lehoux)

Firstly, there is the location. If you thought the less-than pretty old Whitney on Madison Avenue was urban, well the location of the new one (less than pretty again) is ├╝ber-urban. It’s right down by the Hudson River in the Meatpacking District. The decision to relocate here – at a cost of $422 million in design and construction costs – is an important and visible sign of the shifting axis of New Yorks’s art world. It’s down near where the money is made, right by a major highway, surrounded by buildings which are certainly not distinguished by their aesthetics.

Gallery, Whitney Museum of American Art

Gallery, Whitney Museum of American Art (Photograph by Nic Lehoux)

Secondly there’s the architectural design, another Renzo Piano masterpiece. It’s strong and uncompromising, blending solidity and modernity. Its nine stories echo the industrial character of its surrounding neighbourhood while at the same time the design is unmistakably contemporary.

Gallery, Whitney Museum of American Art

Gallery, Whitney Museum of American Art (Photograph by Nic Lehoux)

Thirdly, and allied to the design approach, the Whitney says the new building has been conceived “as a laboratory for artists” and “a site for discovery and risk-taking”. This against a background of a doubling of the exhibition space which will allow the permanent collection to be a constant backdrop to adventurous programming. The thrust is towards a more progressive type of gallery engagement, less genteel and rarified. It will chime with the prevailing mood of relentless, unmediated urban energy pervading downtown Manhattan. It will resonate with the changing feel of New York City and of the art world.