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  7. AD Classics: Whitney Museum / Marcel Breuer

AD Classics: Whitney Museum / Marcel Breuer

AD Classics: Whitney Museum / Marcel Breuer
AD Classics: Whitney Museum / Marcel Breuer, © Wikimedia Commons
© Wikimedia Commons

© Hagen Stier Courtesy of Andre Salvador © Wikimedia Commons Courtesy of Andre Salvador +15

From the architect. Containing one of the most reputable collections of American art from the 20 and 21st centuries, the Whitney Museum designed by Bauhaus-trained architect Marcel Breuer is an easily recognizable landmark of Manhattan. It is known for emphasizing exhibitions of work of living artists while also maintaining an extensive permanent collection of other important pieces from the first half of the century.

© Wikimedia Commons
© Wikimedia Commons

The museum was founded by a well-regarded sculptor and art collector named Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, who had gained popularity among the art crowd after creating the "Whitney Studio Club," which was an exhibition space for new avant-garde American artists. 

Courtesy of Andre Salvador
Courtesy of Andre Salvador

Upon collecting nearly 700 works of American art and being denied when she tried to donate the works to museums, Whitney felt the urge to start her own museum in 1929. This led to the conversion of three row houses to a larger gallery by architect Noel L. Miller in 1931.

The ownership of the museum passed down through the family over the years, and also left its original location in 1954 to take up space behind the Museum of Modern Art. A little over a decade later, the building was to be moved to Manhattan's Upper East Side, and architect Marcel Breuer was asked to plan and build the gallery with help from Hamilton Smith. The site chosen measured 100 x 125 feet and sat amongst tall apartment buildings.

© Hagen Stier
© Hagen Stier

Designed in Breuer's distinct modern style, the museum stands out against its neighboring facades of traditional limestone, brownstone, and brick. Its staircase-form, similarly described as an inverted ziggurat of granite stones brings light into the gallery spaces through upside-down windows on the exterior. Upon it's completion in 1966, the building was described as being somber, heavy and brutal. This has changed over the years, and is described with more positive adjectives of being daring, strong and innovative.

Courtesy of Andre Salvador
Courtesy of Andre Salvador

Whitney Museum was designed with the intention of regularly exhibiting new American artists while displaying all aspects of their explored media; because of this three floors have large and distinguishable open gallery spaces, with suspended precast concrete grid ceilings. These are each detailed to receive movable wall panels and flexible lighting. This hanging panel track system allows flexibility, and allows for the arrangement of the panels in any way deemed fit. Initially the panels were conceived to be made of plywood and a painted finish. These became difficult to keep level as the building began to settle. They were heavy and became heavier due to years of repainting.

© Wikimedia Commons
© Wikimedia Commons

The permanent collections of the museum feature a wide variety of displays, including paintings, drawings, prints, sculptures, installation art, video and photography. It contains more than 18000 works of art, and represents a large portion of the most famous and well-known artists of the nation including Andy Warhol, Alexander Calder, and John Sloan.

The Whitney Biennial, hosted by the museum every two years, is an international art show that displays many lesser-known artists who are new to the American art scene. 

© Wikimedia Commons
© Wikimedia Commons

Another interesting take on artwork by the museum is the website they run, called Artport, which features "Net Art" and is updated monthly. An independent study program is offered by the museum, established in 1968 by Ron Clark, which helped start the careers of many influential artists including Julian Schnabel, Rirkrit Tiravanija.

© Wikimedia Commons
© Wikimedia Commons
Location to be used only as a reference. It could indicate city/country but not exact address. Cite: Megan Sveiven. "AD Classics: Whitney Museum / Marcel Breuer" 18 Apr 2011. ArchDaily. Accessed . <http://www.archdaily.com/128627/ad-classics-whitney-museum-marcel-breuer/>
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21 Comments

Evan Yock · November 22, 2013

The Whitney Museum walks a fine line between the poetic vs. the practical. The emotion ignited by form and space are a glorification and an attribution to the modern works of art it holds. Yet the real beauty in the design of the Whitney Museum is the thought and process that went into articulating this form and space relationship to help maximize the practicality and production of the program. As it approaches its 50 year anniversary, it is amazing to realize that the art and installations have yet to surpass or outlive the building. The integration of the "pop up" Sandwhiched cafe by INABA shows the buildings ability to adapt and renew its appeal and function. A true modern marvel.

Ad Network · February 08, 2012

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Jake · July 18, 2011

Great building, too bad this was written by Megan Sveiven. Lousy Writer

Bruno Bellomo · July 11, 2011

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Lucaciu Roxana · May 09, 2011

Whitney Museum / Marcel Breuer http://www.archdaily.com/12862...

John F. · April 23, 2011

I don't understand. Is this supposed to be an article about the building or about the museum itself? If you're to write an article about the building please do, it would be important. Talk about the architecture, the spaces, the materials, the construction process, the details, etc. It is just awesome how nowadays people just don't know how to talk about architecture, not even architects...

bluevertical · April 20, 2011

Whitney Museum by Marcel Breuer http://bit.ly/fRFXc2 #classic #architecture #art #museum #nyc *so going to miss this when the new one opens

ATL · April 19, 2011

Pic #11 is of Breuer’s Fulton Co. Library in Atlanta, Ga!!!!

John-David Carling · April 19, 2011 09:45 PM

LOL, first thing I noticed too... Its a good picture to have for comparison though. I just went to the Library and the way the have kept it up is sad.

The other sad thing was... Everyone in the library was on Facebook or reading online manga EVERYONE... At least the building was being used I guess.

Beautiful spaces and details though Mr. Breuer!

Travel Writer · April 19, 2011

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CC @ NC-office · April 19, 2011

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Pablo Pereira Magner · April 19, 2011

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arqpres · April 19, 2011

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ArchitecturePassion · April 19, 2011

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GR2TF · April 19, 2011

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Architecture Network · April 19, 2011

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Bocetos Digitales · April 19, 2011

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