Field Trip: The New Whitney Museum

The Whitney Museum from GansevoortAdam and I got our annual museum visit out of the way early this year with a trip to the new Whitney Museum of American Art, which as you know just opened in the Meatpacking District.

You can buy timed-entry tickets ($22) online, which is fantastic, but the lighter text does not mean those times are sold out—it probably means the museum is closed. And that explains how I bought 5 p.m. tickets on a day when the museum closes at 6 p.m. Fortunately, we decided to show up right at 5 p.m. (you get a half-hour leeway). I obviously should’ve looked at the hours, but the museum may want to rethink that.

Once you’ve looked up exactly which street Gansevoort is—and I say that as someone who used to live in the West Village—you’re on your way. Renzo Piano’s building sure is a hulky beast, even bigger than it looks from the west, the only vantage from which I had previously seen it. (You should know straight off that I never felt much affection for Marcel Breuer’s uptown Whitney, so I won’t spend time on comparisons.)

The Whitney Museum near the High LineThe Whitney Museum from WestWhat makes it more than a big, funky shed are the terraces, catwalks, promontories, and exterior staircases. They help the building relate nicely to the High Line.

The Whitney Museum promontoriesAnd once you get under the overhang, the entrance is welcoming.

Whitney Museum entranceThe museum’s Danny Meyer restaurant, Untitled, looks pleasant but a bit generic, especially compared to the nearby Santina, but that may change once people are actually in it.

The Whitney Museum Untitled restaurantThe lobby struck me as a missed opportunity. You could be anywhere; you kind of don’t know where to go; and the gift shop is a tiny corner nook.

The Whitney Museum lobbyWe took the elevator to the top (eighth) floor, and Adam laughed when I headed straight outside. From the beginning, my favorite parts of the experience were the outdoor parts. The art up now is spectacular, no doubt about it, but the decks, stairs, etc.—on floors five through eight—were fun. You get to explore and engage rather than merely observe.

The Whitney Museum deck2The Whitney Museum deck The Whitney Museum exterior stairs2 The Whitney Museum exterior stairs The Whitney Museum deck3A digression: The outdoor spaces are reached by revolving door, and people are really becoming obnoxious about their refusal to touch such doors. More than once, I entered the door at the same time as someone else, only to watch the person just stand there, or sometimes raise his/her hands as if about to push (without actually doing it). So I didn’t push, either. I’m on record about this: The doorflowers must be stopped.

The views are magnificent. You could lose an hour wondering what will be built where there are still low-slung buildings.

The Whitney Museum view of the StandardThe inaugural show, “America Is Hard to See,” is an amazing overview of American art. You’ll recognize many works and discover others, and it’s overwhelming and underwhelming, all at once—as any show that big kind of has to be. I felt like I was reading a textbook, but at least it was cleverly organized and relatively fresh. (I look forward to when there are several smaller shows up.) The galleries themselves, on floors five through eight, are traditional boxes with interesting ceilings. When you approach a window, you often find a surprise moment—such as the rows of sofas facing east and west. The sofas might be better in theory, as the guy in the fifth photo down was quacking loudly on his phone about the right way to cook a chicken.

The Whitney Museum gallery The Whitney Museum gallery2 The Whitney Museum gallery3 The Whitney Museum gallery4 The Whitney Museum window The Whitney Museum gallery5 The Whitney Museum gallery6Before we knew it, a guard was saying we had 10 minutes till closing. As the inventor (I think) of the phrase sightskipping, I’m not going to pretend that I would’ve been likely to spend a lot more time there if I could have. An hour in any museum is about right, and I can go back some other time if I need to—although it would’ve been nice to have a glass of wine outside at the top-floor café (below). So we hustled down the dazzling interior staircase, where a Felix Gonzalez-Torres light sculpture hangs, and I stopped to visit the restroom on the third floor. I only mention it because I truly saw something new there.

The Whitney Museum cafeThe Whitney Museum interior staircaseThe Whitney Museum All gender restroomAnd then we were out on the street, off to a drink at Barbuto while it’s still there and dinner at I Sodi, which anyone who loves Italian food really must visit.

P.S. Adam tells me this post was unnecessarily crabby, for which we both blame my hay fever. The museum is absolutely worth going to, and it’s a treat to have such a big, serious institution downtown.

The Whitney Museum along Gansevoort StPrevious Field Trip posts:
Bushwick-ish
Greenpoint
S-Cruise by Smartboat
Wave Hill
Governors Island
F.D.R. Four Freedoms Park
Litchfield County, Conn.
One Wall Street
Behind the Scenes at Grand Central Terminal
The Howard/Crosby Microneighborhood
Federal Reserve Bank of New York
East River Ferry
Museum of American Finance

4 Comments

  1. You’re my kind of museum goer, Erik, although I do wish you’d reviewed the gift shop, my first stop in any museum!

    Your devoted reader,
    Phyllis Steen.

    • In our final minutes there, I popped in. It was too bright for me (the gift shop is in the southwest corner, and it was 6 p.m.), so I didn’t linger. What I saw were lots of exhibition catalogues and Whitney merch. It didn’t have the cooler-than-usual vibe of, say, the New Museum’s shop.

  2. They are trying too hard with the ALL GENDER RESTROOM. Believe me gentlemen, you don’t want to share a bathroom with the ladies! A sitting area with amazing river views is probably not a great idea for encouraging people to look at the art (and not talk about chicken preparation) but a possible boost in ratings during the very windy & cold days in the winter. The verdict is still out. I liked the Breuer building and like Piano’s homage to it.

  3. I visited the Whitney yesterday and have a few things to add:
    In response to @CHWKgrl, I think its possible that the “All Gender Restroom” is more about the transgender community than about sharing; I could be wrong but I’ve seen a similar one labeled “Gender Neutral Restroom” with male/female/half and half icons.
    Couches are a great way to rest, take in the long view for a moment and gain a second wind to look at more art.
    I was very pleasantly surprised by the gallery spaces, having only previously viewed the monster of a building from the West, I was not a fan, but the spaces treat the art wonderfully and I agree with Erik that the outdoor terraces and staircases are fantastic!
    Lunch at the 8th floor café was exceptionally good.
    The art is fantastic – it feels like a rare opportunity to see pieces pulled up from the permanent collection’s vault. I was thrilled to see favorites.
    I look forward to many more visits.

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