The New Whitney, A Lot to Love

New York City is full of excitement over the opening of the Whitney Museum of American Art in its new Chelsea space. Designed by the famed Renzo Piano, the new building is significantly larger than its previous home on the Upper East Side. While this is not the first time the Whitney has moved, a lot has changed. When the previous incarnation was built in 1966 by Marcel Breuer the collection contained only around 2,000 artworks, now there are more than 19,000. With 50,000 sq ft of indoor exhibition space and 13,000 sq ft of outdoor space/terraces and a Danny Meyer restaurant, the Whitney has seriously upgraded. And no wonder, with a project budget of $720 million.  

The Whitney Museum 1937 to the Present


During a sneak preview, OTE appraiser Alanna Butera, was definitely impressed. The excitement of the crowd during the preview spoke to the overall enthusiasm about the Whitney’s reopening. The new space couldn’t be more different than its former building on Madison Ave., something our appraiser noticed immediately. Alanna noted that part its charm is the light in the space, many windows and outdoor areas, and if you are there in the evening you will probably be lucky enough to witness a beautiful sunset. 

Overall it seems as if the new building is well received. Paul Goldberger, architectural critic, and contributing editor for Vanity Fair wrote that, “the galleries offer the best balance I’ve ever seen between the primary mission of allowing you to focus on the art and the secondary purpose of engaging with the city.”
This is exactly what Renzo Piano intended. To Piano (via the Whitney’s website), the brilliance of the new Whitney is that “here all at once, you have the water, the park, the powerful industrial structures and the exciting mix of people, brought together and focused by this new building and the experience of art.” So I guess we’ll call it a success.

The inaugural exhibition "America Is Hard to See," a title recycled from a 1951 Robert Frost poem, has incurred a bit more dissent. Although our appraiser enjoyed the new show (which will officially open May 1st) it has not been as popular with all critics. A review in the LA Times by Christopher Knight, stuck out in particular. The title “At new Whitney Museum site, a show is shrouded in parochialism” pretty much tells you exactly what Knight thinks.  As reported by Knight, the new show, which features more than 400 artists and almost 650 artworks from 1900 to the present, has a long way to go from being curatorially Manhattan-centric. 
However, the buzz surrounding the exhibition is mostly good. A review in the New York Times by Holland Cotter (Review: New Whitney Museum’s First Show, ‘America Is Hard to See'was much more positive. It appears that thanks to the new space the Whitney is able to pull off an exhibition of a more ambitious scale and scope. Something OTE's preview hopping appraiser agrees with. Despite some Manhattan favoritism, she thought the overall show spoke to consistent American art themes and styles throughout the period.             

One thing no one can deny, this is an exciting new chapter for the Whitney Museum of American Art. 

Fragments of Adam: an OTE Case

The separated head and torso looked disconcertingly familiar to me when they appeared in a photo on the front page of The New York Times on Sunday, November 9th. “Recreating Adam, From Hundreds of Fragments, After the Fall.”

Screen capture of the New York Times article 

Screen capture of the New York Times article 

The history of how it happened, the secrecy that ensued, the resurrection, and finally, revelation is the plot of this terrifying tale of Tullio Lombardo’s great Renaissance marble masterpiece. I hadn’t felt able to speak about it in detail for 12 years. A promise is a promise.

After the fall, when the initial horror of the museum staff had worn off, but only slightly, a few of us,  engineers , technicians and art specialists, were called upon to render professional opinions about what had gone wrong and what was going to be done about it. I and a colleague from this firm were led, as if to a chamber of horrors, into the conservation laboratory where the sculpture lay, shattered  yet still magnificent .

The papers write of it as if it had been scattered in a thousand fragments across the marble floor of the Velez Blanco Patio at the Met, but I remember it as retaining recognition as a very late 15th century Lombardo, head and much of the torso and one leg intact. I can’t recall exactly because I had to turn over all my photographs immediately after our report was rendered. Those were the days before digital where nothing dies. I guess those were the “28 recognizable pieces” that Met conservator Jack Soultanian mentioned in the newspaper article. The rubble had been bagged and identified.

From time to time, from hushed voices, we learned a little about what was going on in the lab, but very little. Massive amount of research were undertaken by this firm and we traced the sculpture back to its original site. The Renaissance scholar on staff, Leatrice Mendelsohn, was amazing in her pursuit of all the critical information required to help me arrive at a value of the sculpture before the fall and how much the piece had lost in value because of the damage.

A few months later I sat at an endlessly long wood table in a secluded section of the Met of which I had not been previously aware, facing what seemed to be an endlessly long  line of dark suited attorneys representing the multiple organizations and firms involved in the disaster.  Oddly enough, I don’t remember being scared because I was so overwhelmed by the grandeur of the setting, with light streaming down behind the group of what appeared to be judge types sitting to my left. I felt like it was an old Warner Brothers film about the trial of Charles the First.

Okay, not to prolong this because, after all, I survived and am writing this blog now. I mean, I wasn’t the one at fault anyway. I didn’t push Adam off his pedestal. The fact that its six foot three, one thousand pound marble body had been standing for so many years on a modest wooden pedestal might have had something to do with the disaster.

So it was with relief that I found that the Met has decided to open the floodgates of information, always a wise course to take, and one that suddenly seems in favor at major museums nationally. So much better than having misinformation leaking out in bits and pieces and that can prove far more detrimental than a simple admission and explanation.

I wonder if reality shows have been influencing all of us.

Written by Elin Lake-Ewald