Beyer Blinder Belle restoring Marcel Breuer’s Whitney building for 2016 reopening under the Metropolitan Museum

Architecture East Preservation
Marcel Breuer peers from the window of the former Whitney Museum in 1967. (Ezra Stoller / Esto)

Marcel Breuer peers from the window of the former Whitney Museum in 1967. (Ezra Stoller / Esto)

The Met Breuer will throw open its doors in March 2016 for the first season of contemporary art programming under the banner of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Breuer’s iconic building, formerly the Whitney Museum of American Art, is currently being “invigorated by renovations that will support a fluid, integrated experience of art and architecture,” as the Met’s press release proudly declares.

The building in 1966. (Ezra Stoller / Esto)

The building in 1966. (Ezra Stoller / Esto)

The renovation seeks to integrate art throughout the entire museum. Immediately upon entering, visitors will be greeted by artist-in-residence Vijay Iyer, who will be conducting a performance installation. It’s a short elevator ride up to four additional floors of “contemporary art in dialogue with historic works” in the Met’s collection.

“The Met is proud to become the steward of this iconic building and to preserve Marcel Breuer’s bold vision,” said Thomas P. Campbell, director and CEO of the Met, said in a statement. “Our approach to inhabiting and interpreting the building honors Breuer’s intent for the space, highlighting its unique character as an environment for the presentation of modern and contemporary art. The wonderfully scaled galleries and interior spaces of The Met Breuer provide a range of opportunities to present our modern and contemporary program, in addition to our galleries in the Fifth Avenue building.”

Beyer Blinder Belle is spearheading the restoration efforts, including touching up Breuer’s distinct concrete walls, stone floors, bronze fixtures, and lighting. The architects are working hard to preserve the building’s weathered patina rather than scrubbing and polishing its history away. A streamlined entry sequence, new restaurant, sunken garden, and “book bar” retail shop are also planned.

“What should a museum look like, a museum in Manhattan?” Breuer asked in 1963 upon receiving the commission to design the new Whitney. “It is easier to say first what it should not look like. It should not look like a business or office building, nor should it look like a place of light entertainment. Its form and its material should have identity and weight in the neighborhood of 50-story skyscrapers, of mile-long bridges, in the midst of the dynamic jungle of our colorful city. It should be an independent and self-relying unit, exposed to history, and at the same time it should transform the vitality of the street into the sincerity and profundity of art.”

The inaugural showing includes free entry to the lobby and lower-level galleries. According to the Met:

The inaugural season of The Met Breuer features a major cross-departmental curatorial initiative to present a historic examination of unfinished works of art; the largest exhibition to date dedicated to Indian modernist Nasreen Mohamedi; and a month-long performance installation, by Artist in Residence Vijay Iyer. Upcoming exhibitions include a presentation of Diane Arbus’s rarely seen early photographic works (July 11– November 27, 2016), and the first museum retrospective dedicated to Kerry James Marshall (October 25, 2016 – January 22, 2017).

The building has been vacant since the Whitney decamped for its new Renzo Piano–designed Meatpacking outpost perches astride the High Line.

Meanwhile Uptown, Richard Morris Hunt’s grand Beaux Arts beauty is in the midst of a conceptual plan by David Chipperfield Architects that will eventually guide the redesign of the complex’s Southwest Wing.

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