Volume 76, Number 24 | November 1 - 7, 2006

Dia High Line runs out of steam; Whitney now on track?

By Albert Amateau

The Dia Art Foundation told the city's Department of Cultural Affairs on Oct. 24 that it has dropped plans to build a museum on Gansevoort St. at the southern end of the High Line, which is being converted into a 1.4-mile elevated park.

However, the city has been talking to other institutions about the Gansevoort site, and the Whitney Museum of American Art is a definite contender, according to city and Whitney sources.

Proposed by Dia in May 2005, the 35,000-square-foot museum was to be incorporated into the entrance of the High Line Park and was hailed as a brilliant addition to the Gansevoort Market District and a cultural anchor for the High Line.

But Dia's executive director, Michael Govan, who came up with the plan, resigned in December 2005 to become executive director of the Los Angeles County Museum, and the foundation has not yet hired a replacement

“The decision not to move forward was a difficult one to make, because the Gansevoort site is a great location,” said Nathalie de Gunzburg, chairperson of the Dia. “But New York City has other great locations, and Dia's board looks forward to resuming its search once a new director is in place. The city has been a wonderful partner in this effort and has promised its continuing support as Dia works to find the best place for its New York City program.”

Joshua David, co-founder of Friends of the High Line, which is working with the city to convert the old rail viaduct into a park, was disappointed but said the demise of the Dia project would not affect the proposed spring 2008 opening of the southern portion of High Line Park between Gansevoort and 20th Sts. Construction on that segment began in April and is on schedule, David said.

“The excitement about the Dia project made it clear that there's a great opportunity for a cultural attraction at the location,” David said. “We look forward to working with the city on finding another compelling use for the High Line southern entry. It will ultimately be one of the most exciting corners in New York City. We also look forward to the possibility of partnering with Dia on other arts projects in the future,” David said.

Jan Rothschild, spokesperson for the Whitney Museum of American Art, said of the Gansevoort location, “We've been in discussions with the city about that site.” The Whitney has been considering expanding its 1966 Marcel Breuer-designed building on Madison Ave. at 75th St. with a new nine-story tower. The city has granted a variance for the tower, but Upper East Side Historic District preservationists opposed it. The Whitney board has not made a final decision.

The possibility was the subject of two New York Times articles within the last week. But, speaking on Tuesday, Rothschild said, “There's nothing new,” but added, “We're excited about the possibility of that site, but it's still only a possibility. We're talking with the city about it and with other private property owners [at different sites].”

Cultural Affairs Commissioner Kate Levin was also disappointed that the Dia High Line project fell through.

“We regret that this project is not coming to fruition,” she said, adding, “We look forward to working with Dia to ensure that the organization has a vital and visionary place in New York City's cultural landscape.”

A spokesperson acknowledged that the city has been talking to other institutions but declined to name them.

Dia, whose main exhibition space is now in Beacon, N.Y., has closed its Chelsea buildings on W. 22nd St. The original plan was for Dia to move to a new two-story concrete building to be built on the north side of Gansevoort St. between Washington and West Sts.

The building would have included the 100-foot-wide southern entrance to the elevated park. The main gallery was to be on the second floor, with direct access to the High Line, and the ground level was to be used for sculpture and installations too large to go on the second floor.

The proposed museum was to have shared the city-owned block with a meatpacking co-op. The square block has a deed restriction dating back to when the Astor family gave it to the city with a mandate for use as an agricultural market.

The agricultural restriction would have to be modified and a special permit granted to allow a museum or another cultural use on the site.

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