Whitney's Breuer Building Sold to Sotheby's
3. June 2023
Photo: John Hill/World-Architects
The Whitney Museum of American Art is selling its landmark Marcel Breuer-designed building on Manhattan's Upper East Side to auction house Sotheby's for its new global headquarters.
Uncertainty over the future of the 1966 brutalist building at 945 Madison Avenue has bubbled ever since the Whitney — following aborted expansion attempts by Michael Graves, Rem Koolhaas, and Renzo Piano — decamped for the Meatpacking District in 2015. Although the Breuer building sits in the Upper East Side (UES) Historic District, which makes any exterior changes subject to the Landmarks Preservation Commission, it is not a standalone landmark with protections extending to its interior spaces — spaces that are arguably as important as its exterior form.
The bridged entrance and sunken courtyard of the reverse-ziggurat building (Photo: John Hill/World-Architects)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art first took over the empty building, carrying out a renovation by Beyer Blinder Belle in 2016 and holding exhibitions, under The Met Breuer name, on Siah Armajani and other modern artists. Then, in 2021, the building became the Frick Madison, the temporary home for the Frick Collection as its nearby UES home is being expanded by Selldorf Architects. That project will be complete next year, after which Sotheby's will take over the Breuer building. Yet this time, instead of leasing it from the Whitney, Sotheby's will be the new owner, purchasing the five-story, 82,000-square-foot building outright — “for about $100 million.”
The building interior during its tenure as The Met Breuer (Photo: John Hill/World-Architects)
The sale is very good news for people worried about the future of the building, especially given the words of Sotheby's CEO Charles F. Stewart in a statement: “We often refer to the provenance of artwork, and in the case of The Breuer, there is no history richer than the museum which has housed the Whitney, Metropolitan and Frick collections.” “Under Sotheby’s stewardship,” the statement from Sotheby's continues, “an architect will review the building with an eye to renewing and restoring its internal spaces and key elements – especially the striking lobby” once the auction house takes possession.
The news comes just four years after Sotheby's completed OMA's renovation of its headquarters inside an old cigar factory and camera warehouse on York Avenue, also on the UES. That project yielded 90,000 square feet across 40 galleries, meaning the move to the Breuer building will be a bit of a downsize for the auction house. Have no fear, as Sotheby's is also set to soon open Gantry Point, a 240,000-sf facility in Long Island City that it will use for processing and warehousing operations. That facility will open later this year, while its move from York Avenue to Madison Avenue will take place in 2025.