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Whitney again tries for more gallery space

This time a 'more moderate' expansion plan is being considered by New York City's landmarks panel.

January 28, 2005|From Associated Press

NEW YORK — The Whitney Museum of American Art's collection has grown over the last few decades -- from a couple hundred objects in 1966 to more than 15,000 today. Unfortunately, the gallery space hasn't kept up, and only a tiny portion of the works can be shown at the museum's famed Marcel Breuer-designed building on Madison Avenue.

Attempts to expand the museum have come and gone -- the most recent in 2003, when a $200-million plan was scrapped as too expensive. Another plan in the late 1980s faced staunch opposition from neighbors in the museum's historic, mixed commercial and residential community on the Upper East Side.

But museum officials, ever an optimistic bunch, are at it again. A plan that calls for a new, nine-story building just a few feet south of the current museum is the subject of a Tuesday hearing by the city Landmarks Preservation Commission. Getting commission approval is a necessary step to moving the multiyear process forward.

The new plan, by Italian designer Renzo Piano, is "more moderate" than previous iterations, said Adam Weinberg, the Whitney's director. "What we want to do is balance the needs of preservation and the needs of the neighborhood with making great architecture," he said.

Piano's design calls for demolishing two brownstones next to the museum and using that space for a new entrance that would feed onto a plaza.

The other buildings on that block of Madison Avenue and two brownstones south of the museum on 74th Street would be reconstructed -- the front facades would remain the same, but the backs would be essentially sheared off and the structures rebuilt into offices. The new building, at 72 feet by 72 feet, would be connected to the main Breuer building by a series of transparent, enclosed bridges on each floor.

The Whitney's permanent collection includes works by Edward Hopper, Louise Nevelson, Agnes Martin, Claes Oldenburg, Georgia O'Keeffe and Alexander Calder. "Cy Twombly: Fifty Years of Works on Paper" is currently on view through May 8.

The expansion, if approved, would be small compared with that of other museums. New York's Museum of Modern Art, for example, jacked up its gallery space by 40,000 square feet in its renovation. The Whitney would add only about 8,000 square feet with the proposed Piano design, but it would provide the museum new gallery space, a new auditorium, a dedicated restaurant space and a new library and research facility.

If the commission approves the plan and permits are granted, museum officials said, then the design would be reviewed and adjusted if needed. Work could start in the summer of 2007. No cost estimate has been announced, but Weinberg said it would be at least $100 million.

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