Volume 76, Number 27 | November 29 - December 5, 2006

Whitney will ride the rails Downtown for museum

By Albert Amateau

The Whitney Museum of American Art agreed last week to build its satellite museum in the city-owned building on Gansevoort St. at the gateway to the High Line.

The announcement by the Whitney and the city’s Economic Development Corporation on Monday was hailed by Friends of the High Line, the Whitney and the Department of Cultural Affairs.

The site, previously slated to be the new Manhattan location for the Dia Art Foundation, was left in limbo last month when Dia decided to abandon the project.

The Whitney had been planning a nine-story addition to its E. 75th St. building — a project that aroused opposition from neighbors because it would have replaced low-rise brownstones — when the opportunity arose at the foot of the proposed High Line Park.

Instead of the proposed 65,000 square feet of gallery space on E. 75th St., the Whitney’s Gansevoort gallery would provide between 100,000 and 150,000 square feet of exhibition space, according to Adam D. Weinberg, Whitney executive director. Renzo Piano, architect of the now-abandoned Whitney Upper East Side addition, has agreed to design the Gansevoort project, Weinberg said.

“We’re very excited that a cultural institution of the Whitney’s caliber will become a great asset to the High Line, the neighborhood and the city as a whole,” said Josh David, co-founder of Friends of the High Line. “When you imagine a new museum designed by Renzo Piano at the beginning of the High Line on Gansevoort and Washington Sts., you’ll see a plan for one of the most exciting destinations in the city,” David said.

The proposed site is on a city-owned block that also contains the Gansevoort Market Co-op building, which is operated by about a dozen meat businesses. The two abandoned buildings on the block’s southern side that comprise the museum site are not a part of the co-op, but are owned by the city.

But the deal is still tentative and will require a change in a deed, imposed when the Astor family transferred ownership to the city, that restricts the block to market uses. The project would take about five years to complete.

The Whitney will share the space with offices and maintenance space for the High Line. Meat wholesalers will occupy the north part of the building, according to an E.D.C. spokesperson.

While Dia had planned to lease the site from the city, the Whitney agreement calls for buying the now-vacant 820 Washington St./555 West St. site. The agreement calls for the city to charge the museum about half the appraised value of the property, according to Jan Rothschild, Whitney spokesperson.

Cultural Affairs Commissioner Kate D. Levin cautioned that the deal was not yet final. Nevertheless, she said, “It would help one of New York City’s premier cultural institutions flourish while enhancing access to the High Line and addressing long-term needs of residents and businesses in the area. We look forward to working with the leadership of the Whitney on creating a wonderful asset for the city’s cultural community and the surrounding neighborhood.”

Weinberg said the museum intends to strengthen its performing arts, education and film programs, which will be based at the Gansevoort St. location. The Whitney began in the Village on E. Eighth St. in 1918 and moved to its Upper East Side location in a Marcel Breuer-designed building in 1966.

“So much of the first half of our collection was made around 14th St. and below and so many artists whose work we have live in a 20-block radius. We see this as reconnecting with the artists’ community,” Weinberg said.

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