Breuer's Whitney Museum
by Eric M. Wolf
On June 17, 1963, the Whitney announced to the public its plans to build a new facility in a new location:
The Whitney Museum of American Art announces today (Monday, June 17) that it has contracted to sell its present building at 22 West 54 Street to the Museum of Modern Art and that it would erect a new one, approximately three times as large on a site at the southeast corner of Madison Avenue and East 75th Street. Marcel Breuer, the noted architect, will be retained to design the new museum, which will [be] his first work erected in Manhattan. Michael E. Irving will be the consulting architect.
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This new project would become the Whitney Museum of American Art that we know today.
Not only a radical design, Breuer's building would become an architectural icon of New York City and a symbol of the radicalism and controversy that would surround much of the Whitney Museum's activities and commitment to often controversial trends in contemporary art (perhaps best encapsulated in the Whitney's biennials).
The new location on the Upper East Side would place the Whitney Museum in the "Museum Mile" district of Manhattan. Though one block east of the "mile" itself (the Whitney would be on Madison Avenue rather than Fifth Avenue), it would be five blocks north of the Frick Collection on 70th Street and Fifth Avenue (more or less the southernmost of the museums of the district) and seven blocks south of the main entrance of the Metropolitan Museum of Art on 82nd Street.
The Whitney would also be located very near to the Guggenheim Museum and the Jewish Museum, two institutions that, at that time, had major commitments to contemporary art. However, the new Whitney was far enough from all of these institutions to reassert its own identity and autonomy.
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This article is excerpted from American Art Museum Architecture: Documents and Design by Eric M. Wolf, copyright © 2010, with permission of the publisher, W.W. Norton.
The six-story Whitney Museum of American Art (1966) in New York City was designed by Marcel Breuer.
Photo: Ezra Stoller/ Courtesy W.W. Norton
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Under the shelter of projecting upper floors, a sunken sculpture garden separates the lower floors of the Whitney Museum from the adjacent sidewalk of Madison Avenue.
Image: Courtesy Whitney Museum of American Art
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