Located in New York City, New York, the Whitney Museum of American Art is the preeminent institution in the United States devoted to the collection and presentation of 20th and 21st-century American art. The museum is named after socialite and arts patron Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, who was a prominent advocate for American artists in the early 20th century.
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Prior to the establishment of the museum, she was well known in New York arts circles as the founder of the Whitney Studio, a Greenwich Village exhibition space seeking to promote the works of new, underrepresented, and avant-garde artistic voices. After her 1929 offer of a collection and endowment to the Metropolitan Museum of Art was rejected, Whitney focused her efforts on creating her own museum, dedicated to the promotion of contemporary American artists.
The Whitney Museum of American Art opened to the public in 1931 in a converted three-rowhouse space in Greenwich Village that encompassed Whitney's private residence and the former site of the Whitney Studio. Throughout the 20th century, the museum changed locations several times, facing significant space problems. It held a location on Madison Avenue in the Upper East Side, designed by architect Marcel Breuer, from 1966 to 2014, although it operated several branch museums during the tenure to accommodate its collections, the first museum in the city to do so. Planned expansions were dropped throughout the 1980s and 1990s, eventually leading the museum to develop a new site in Lower Manhattan's Meatpacking District.
Permanent Collections and Exhibits
The new Whitney Museum, an eight-story complex designed by architect Renzo Piano encompassing 200,000 square feet of exhibition and education space, opened on May 1, 2015. Two floors of the building hold the museum's permanent collection, featuring more than 22,000 works by 20th and 21st-century American artists, including 600 works from Whitney's original personal collection. Over 3,000 multidisciplinary artists are represented in the fields of painting, drawing, print, sculpture and installation, photography, and audiovisual works, with more than 80% of the collection consisting of works on paper. The collection spans the major artistic movements of the past century of American art, including the modernist, abstract expressionism, pop art, minimalist, and political art movements, with notable holdings by artists such as Georgia O'Keeffe, Edward Hopper, Andy Warhol, and Jackson Pollock.
True to Whitney's founding vision, the museum serves as a prominent launching venue for new artists, hosting a number of temporary and touring exhibits. A highlight is the museum's biennial, an exhibition that showcases works by upcoming international artists, with many notable avant-garde and unconventional works. The Bucksbaum Award, which includes a $100,000 grant and an invitation to present an exhibition at the museum, is awarded to an outstanding biennial participant. In addition to its physical holdings, the museum also maintains a website, Artport, launched in 2001, that functions as an online gallery space and commissions digital and new media works.
The museum complex is also home to a 170-seat auditorium, a multipurpose black box theater, and a library with reading rooms. The building's four main elevators also serve as a permanent art installation, designed by Richard Artschwager. Two restaurants are operated by famed restaurateur Danny Meyer, the contemporary tavern Untitled, located on the first floor, and the eighth-floor Studio Cafe, which offers light fare and cocktails in a naturally lit environment with floor-to-ceiling windows.
Ongoing Programs and Education
The opening of the Meatpacking District building marks the first time the Whitney Museum has held space specifically devoted to education. Located on the third floor of the museum, the Laurie M. Tisch Education Center serves as a hub for art courses and drop-in public programming. The center follows the philosophy of American educator John Dewey and approaches its programming as an open, experimental process that is meant to enhance perception and encourage creative thinking for visitors. Lectures, guided tour talks, and appreciation courses are offered in conjunction with current exhibits or to foster general a public understanding of contemporary art, and open studio time is available for families on weekends.
The Whitney Education Community Advisory Network, established in 2015, brings together local teachers and representatives from community organizations to facilitate dialogue on the museum's role in the community, which includes partnerships with a number of neighborhood initiatives to facilitate art access for underprivileged populations. The museum also partners with local senior organizations for art therapy programs that encourage creativity and cognitive function.
Established in 1968, the museum's independent study program has helped launch the careers of many well-known and influential artists, curators, and critics. The program selects 14 students annually to participate in intensive art history, theory, and studio programs.
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