The New Downtown Whitney Is a Spectacular Success

View of the terraces at the Downtown WhitneyIt's definitely the cultural event of the season, and probably the year, the opening of the new downtown Whitney Museum of American Art, moving from their Upper East Side home of nearly 50 years to the gleaming new building hard by the West Side Highway in the Meatpacking District. As an event in 21st-century New York City, the opening of the new Whitney is significant for many reasons, from the obvious–even in this town of non-stop change, it's rare indeed to get an new major museum–to the broader historical implications, as it in many ways cements the years-long movement of Manhattan's cultural heart downtown. Located at the southern end of the High Line, it also puts an exclamation point on the astonishing transformation of this part of town, which in a decade or two has pretty much been completely remade from an industrial area with a lively (and seedy) nightlife scene, to a residential, bridge-and-tunnel, tourist destination. Just amazing. None of which would matter much if the new building turned out to be flop, but fortunately for everyone, the opposite is true. The new downtown Whitney is a resounding success, for casual art enthusiasts, for the inevitable hordes of tourists, and for hardcore museum geeks alike. 

Chuck Close painitng at the Downtown Whitney

Welcome To The Downtown Whitney

I skipped the opening weekend block party/free admission, knowing the lines would be insane, instead buying an advanced timed ticket for a weekday late afternoon. This is clearly the way to go, until the crowds thin a bit, because the Whitney has done away with its admittance stickers, so you can get your phone or a printout scanned by the guard at the elevator and waltz right in. This new method also means there's no re-entry, which was a tradition uptown, but it seems a reasonable trade-off. As always, no museum admission is required to go to Danny Meyer's new version of his restaurant Untitled, located off the lobby, nor to check out the bookstore. Once you're in, the strategy remains the same as before: take the elevator to the top, and walk your way down. 

Colored chairs on the terace at the downtown Whitney

The Views From The Downtown Whitney

This is now more than ever true with the Whitney's amazing series of stepped terraces, on which you can walk outside from the 8th to the 5th floors, admiring the sculptures and lovely eastern and northern views at each level. Only on the top floor does the terrace face west, out over the Hudson, which is also what you'll see from the outdoor tables at the Studio Cafe. I can't emphasize enough how fantastic these terraces are, adding a whole new dimension to the experience without seeming gimmicky, or that it's been turned into a theme park. And when it's time to finally time to walk down some indoor stairs (which you can do, by the way, up top, but you won't want to unless it's raining), you're greeted by Felix Gonzalez Torres's beautiful shower of lightbulbs to guide your way. And, yes, there is plenty of art at the new Whitney, the overall presentation of which is also pretty spectacular. The space is huge, first of all, but traffic flow is smartly directed through the internal galleries, and most rooms have both a number of show toppers as well as quieter pieces, so everyone keeps moving. Plus your trips back out onto the terraces at each floor prevent you from every feeling too hemmed in. There were tons of people with me every step of the way when I went last Wednesday, but it never felt mobbed like it can at, for example, the Met or MoMA for blockbuster shows. 

Close up of the calder circus exhibit at the Downtown Whitney

America Is Hard to See at The Whitney

Anyway, the inaugural exhibition here, America Is Hard to See, smartly draws entirely from the Whitney's permanent collection, so although lots (most?) of the works are familiar, they've rarely been given this much room to strut their stuff. Plus there's just more art to see than ever before, and the chronologically and thematically organized floors and galleries offer plenty of surprising, even jokey, juxtapositions. Even if these weren't all here, in this spectacular new place, it would still qualify as an outstanding show. 

Views from the downtown Whitney

For More Information on The Whitney Downtown

The Whitney is located at 99 Gansevoort Street, at the southern end of the High Line and stretching all the way over to the West Side Highway. The Whitney is open Monday, Wednesday and Sunday from 10:30 a.m. until 6:00 p.m.; on Thursday through Saturday it stays open until 10:00 p.m. (can't wait to go back at night!). Closed Tuesday. For lots more information and to get your advanced tickets (or membership, which also allows you to skip the line), see here.

Posted in manhattan living, Midtown East, NYC Events | Tagged