Flying through the New Whitney

Benches and water installations flow all along the High Line where you can see Staten Island in the background

Design benches and water installations flow all along the High Line where you can see Staten Island in the background

Walking along the birch trees of the High Line from 14 th street at 10 am is very gratifying. The heat was such in the City on that summer morning, that everyone was looking for the shade side of the sidewalks and the coolness of the trees. The beauty of the benches, artwork and wooden floors of the High Line attracted tourists and New Yorkers all together. With its 5.5 million visitors a year,  it is now competition to the Metropolitan museum and the MoMa. And a natural pathway to the Whitney Museum downtown designed by Swiss architect Renzo Piano. After reading the illuminating article by Clifford A.Pearson in the May issue of Architectural Record, the most fun International architecture magazine, I could not resist doing this one day trip to NY in stifling heat.

Pine floors warm up the large white spaces often light with natural light.

Pine wood floors warm up the large white spaces often light with natural light.

Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney by Robert Henri, 1916

Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, by Robert Henri, 1916

The building is the reverse of Frank Gehry’s buildings, in that there is nothing striking or esthetical about it. It serves its purpose beautifully though, and is the most welcoming place. If you have to queue, you do so in the shade with smiling staff that comes up to you to offer membership to the museum. The cafe is open on the street and looks very pretty, the entrance hall is wide and luminous. As Piano said, ” I drew a building that flirts with the High Line and talks to the city”.

What struck me the most about this new gallery is the openness of the exhibition space onto the city, the natural light that flows through, the simple pine floors,  and the terraces on each floor with either sculptures or installations.

Stuck between the Hudson river and the High Line, the New WHitney designed by Renzo Piano has become the center of trendy life in Manhattan.

Stuck between the Hudson river and the High Line, the New Whitney designed by Renzo Piano has become the center of trendy life in Manhattan.

What disappointed me is the white walls all around that reminded me of any contemporary museum (the Madison avenue Breuer building had a strong “coloured” identity) and the staircases which look like fire exits.

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Jasper Johns, “Three Flags”, 1958, is one of the iconic paintings of the Whitney

The art is a mish mash of American painters, sculptors and photographers with some videos. I recognised many of the works from Madison avenue of course, and liked the mix of black and white photos with coloured paintings. The stroll through the galleries was light and fun but I never felt my heart beat like I would at the  de Menil foundation in Houston or the Beyeler in Basel, the Louisiana in Copenhagen or the Pompidou in Paris.

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On the fifth floor terrace opening on the city, an installation by Mary Heilmann, “Sunset”.

The Whitney does not have a soul yet but it has many visitors, among which eager upper class school children at summer camp in the city. It is the reflection of very rich American collectors with their names in some of the rooms (not yet in the elevators like at the MFA in Boston). But it will need a little time to feel like an inspired or inspirational art place. The reverse of the High Line in a way… (From October 30 th, a major Frank Stella retrospective)

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3 Comments on “Flying through the New Whitney”

  1. Alexandra ORMOND Hughes

    HI LAURE,
    ALAN RIDING SENT YOUR BLOG TO ME AS WE HAD DINNER LAST WEEK AND I HAD JUST BEEN BACK FROM MY HOME TOWN NYC AND VISITED THE WHITNEY TWISE, PLUS HIGHLINE..ETC.
    AND WAS TELLING HIM ALL ABOUT IT.
    I MUST SAY MY EXPERIENCE WAS MORE POSITIVE THAN YOURS.. WE HAD DINNER ON THE TOP FLOOR AND WATCHED THE NEW YORK SKYLINE UNFOLD … AMAZING.
    MY HUSBAND AND I ALSO VISITED THE 911 MEMORIAL AND IT IS A MUST SEE.. WE ALSO DID THE BRONX BOTANICAL GARDENS..ANOTHER MUST SEE..
    WE WALKED THE HIGHLINE UNTIL WE GOT TO 34TH STREET WHERE THE TOM WOELZ PROJECT IS HAPPENING ..HEARD HIM SPEAK AT THE ARTS ARENA A FEW MONTHS AGO HERE IN PARIS.
    I AM A NATIVE NEW YORKER AND TRAVEL BACK AND FORTH OFTEN… I WOULD LOVE TO SHARE WITH YOU MORE ABOUT THE THE 911 MEMORIAL..HAVE SOME GREAT PHOTOS..
    BEST,
    AND OH YES THE SARGENT SHOW AT THE MET CURATED BY MY FIRST COUSIN RICHARD ORMOND..

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