NYC: How to Save a Marcel Breuer Building

Whitney Museum of Armerican Art NYC

Titled Whitney Museum to Receive $131 Million Gift, Carol Vogel of The New York Times reports that Leonard A. Lauder, chairman of the Estée Lauder Companies and, according to Forbes magazine, with a net worth of $3.2 billion in 2007, said on Tuesday in a telephone interview that his art foundation would give the museum $131 million, the biggest donation in the Whitney’s 77-year history. Mr Lauder is also chairman of the Whitney Museum of American Art.

One requirement of the gift is that it is not to sell its Marcel Breuer building on Madison Avenue for an extended period. Mr. Lauder as an architecture lover believes the Whitney and the Breuer building should not be separated.

The Whitney announced last year that it planned to open a satellite museum downtown in the meatpacking district of Manhattan, which stirred speculation that it might sell its Breuer building.

The gift includes $6 million to cover expenses until the donation is complete, which is expected to be by June 30, 2009. The money is a major infusion for the Whitney, which has been historically under-endowed. Its new endowment total of $195 million will still pale in comparison with those of institutions like the Museum of Modern Art, with an $850 million endowment. (Ronald S. Lauder, Leonard Lauder’s brother, is a trustee and former board chairman at MoMA.)

In November the Whitney announced that it had reached a conditional agreement with the city’s Economic Development Corporation to buy a city-owned site at Washington and West Streets, the same place where the Dia Art Foundation had planned to build a museum. (In October 2006 Dia said it had scrapped that idea and would seek a different site in the city.) The Whitney satellite is to be designed by the Italian architect Renzo Piano.

Mr. Piano was also the architect for a proposed nine-story addition to the Breuer building that was abandoned in 2006.

The Piano scheme was the third time in more than a decade that the museum had commissioned a celebrity architect to design a major expansion, only to pull out.

Mr. Lauder’s gift is not the first major donation he has made to the Whitney. Since becoming its chairman in 1994, he has led the campaign for the new fifth-floor galleries in the Breuer building, which are devoted entirely to the permanent collection.

Six years ago he led a three-year initiative to acquire about $200 million worth of art by masters like Jasper Johns, Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol, Ellsworth Kelly, Barnett Newman and Jackson Pollock.

Mr. Lauder’s American Contemporary Art Foundation was responsible for the largest single group of art in that gift, including major works by Mark Rothko, Franz Kline, Warhol and Pollock.

My Thoughts

This is a brilliant move to save a Breuer Building in a time frame where Breuer buildings seem a bit less loved than they used to be.

This is the solution when the US Ambassador to The Netherlands will leave his Marcel Breuer designed American Embassy in The Hague City Center after pressure from the The Hague Municipality because of the cumbersome safety measures put into place after 9/11:

Create a Whitney satellite in The Hague….

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.