Tyler Green
Art-focused Journalism by Tyler Green

Tyler Green Modern Art Notes

Six things I think I think: Met, Whitney edition

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Yesterday Artinfo reported that the Whitney and Metropolitan museums were in talks that could result in the Whitney leasing its Marcel Breuer-designed building to the Met. Six thoughts:

  1. If this goes through, it would be a nice thing for the Met, an enabling thing for the Whitney, but it might ultimately be a bigger deal for the cramped National Gallery of Art, the most major American museum that hasn’t expanded in the last 30 years.
  2. The Met leads. If the Met does this, it makes it somewhat more likely that its similarly confined peer museums would be willing to expand off-site. Art Institute of Chicago head James Cuno has already acknowledged that if the AIC grows again, it’ll have to be elsewhere. The director of the most under-built, relatively under-sized major American museum — the NGA — has also previously said that his museum needs to explore off-site expansion alternatives. If the Met expands to the Whitney, it gives the super-conservative NGA leadership and trustees something to point to and say, ‘If they can…’
  3. But in terms of what the Met would gain in square footage, it may be more minor than you would have thought: According to AAMD’s 2009 member survey, the Met has 786,000 square feet of exhibition space. That’s tops in the country, more than triple the gallery space at No. 2 LACMA.  The Whitney did not reply to the 2009 survey, but multiple outlets have reported that the Whitney has 30,000 square feet of exhibition space (about 67th in the U.S., on rough par with the Yale Center for British Art and the Amon Carter). The Met would gain four percent more gallery space. Sure, the Met on Madison would give the museum’s contemporary department somewhere to grow, but does the Met really have that much more we ought to see? I don’t know… which would be part of the fun.
  4. If the Met moves contemporary exhibitions away from the rest of art history, is that a plus?
  5. Who would have thunk that the Met might be the first New York museum to expand to a Manhattan satellite? About 15 years ago, when MoMA was deciding what to do about it’s quarters on 53rd Street, the museum explored the possibility of expanding not on-site, but near John Jay College, across town. It ended up doing what it did.
  6. If this happens, no one will be happier than curators. The Met would have to do some hiring…

Commenters: What would you like to see the Met do with the space? What would you like them to hang, where and how?

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Comments

  1. I feel that enshrinement among art from all other periods of human civilization is good for Modern and Contemporary art at the Met. It is an institutional legitimization. Moving these collections to a separate site might signal that they are something other, perhaps not yet as worthy to share the same roof with the Met’s other collections. In a way, it might be a kind of ghettoization.

  2. In response to no. 5: The Whitney used to have branches of its own in Manhattan, so this would not be something completely new.

  3. Point. I’m too young but wasn’t there also a branch downtown sometime in the 1970s-80s?

  4. You know, the met doesn’t have to use the Whitney for modern and contemporary art. They probably will(and it might be a good thing since modern and contemporary are kinda squeezed into the current building) but it’s not the only thing. My thought would almost be a rotating display of stuff from the pernament collections that’s used for curatorial experimentation.

  5. It’s very difficult to show contemporary art properly in the Met as currently constructed. The spaces are all wrong–just look at the scale of the photography galleries, built when photographs were always small and could not tolerate much exposure to light. Along those lines, any museum with its curatorial staff organized by medium will find it difficult to effectively deal with post-medium contemporary art, which is to say most interesting contemporary art, as MoMA often illustrates.

    This is potentially a great move for the Met, and a good thing for contemporary art, which now suffers under the historicizing and teleological tendencies of modern museums.

  6. by Paul Laster

    Hi Tyler,

    You say, “Who would have thunk that the Met might be the first New York museum to expand to a Manhattan satellite?,” but the Whitney had satellite spaces in Lower Manhattan and Midtown ages ago and the Guggenheim had an outpost in SoHo for many years. The Met is rarely the first to do anything daring.

    All best,

    Paul

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