In case you don’t remember the old Whitney Museum, it was a structure designed by Marcel Breuer working with Hamilton Smith, completed in 1966. It is a strong, modernist building which fits the definition of Brutalism. Brutalist architecture shuns the strictures of the International Style and other tenets of modernist movements with boxy, blocks of concrete and sheer heavy walls.
Less lyrical and less concerned with volume than the Organic or International Style architecture, weight was not an issue. The sculptural qualities of the structure was of paramount importance. Because of the utility of using copious amounts of concrete, many commercial and government buildings were thrown up with a Brutalist enthusiasm.
The old Whitney Museum was unsuitable for the enormous collection. When the museum first opened in 1931 by sculptor Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, great granddaughter of business tycoon Cornelius “Commodore” Vanderbilt, the assemblage of works numbered no more than 500. Presently, the museum contains upwards of 21,000 works of art. The new Whitney Museum of American Art doubles the exhibition space and adds many modern features. The new museum certainly exhibits an entirely different architectural style, is more open with expansive views of the Hudson river.
The new Whitney includes 50,000 square feet of indoor exhibition space, 13,000 square feet of outdoor exhibition space and other very large special exhibition space. The building was designed by Renzo Piano and contains plazas, a large atrium, classrooms, an auditorium, a reading room, various centers, retail shop and restaurant. The new Whitney Museum of American Art opened May 1, 2015.
Although the new Whitney has tremendous advantages over the old Whitney, I for one, prefer the old. The new building, to me, is bland, ordinary and just bigger. It has the cantilevers and the overhanging angles and so forth and so on that would suit any flourishing insurance company or rock music museum. Regrettably, the huge expense of this new structure is not justified by the architecture. One would hope that a huge dose of originality would accompany a museum dedicated to modern American art. Even more sad to me is that the building verges on ugly. Parts of the structure jut out with no reason that I can discover. I could understand if movement of the eye or even movement of people was a concern. Yet nothing is understandable. The cantilevered platforms remind me of a production facility not quite finished. The worst I can say of this building is that it develops a serious case of indifference. Who can hate something so unremarkable.
Compared to the Breuer Building, the new Whitney is a gaping bore. I am sure the contents and the conveniences of the new structure make the museum very much worth visiting. However, going for the building itself is not worth the taxi fare.
Yes, I am familiar with the Marcel Breuer’s old Whitney. A Brutalist sort of architecture, if my memory serves me correctly.