Finally, the new Whitney Museum of American Art has what it’s been waiting years to acquire: visitors.
After a four-year, $422 million construction project, the museum opened on Gansevoort Street, next to the entrance of the High Line, on May 1, attracting a crowd and, at times, lengthy lines for admission.
“We’ve been waiting a long time for this,” said Melissa Sundaram, a teacher from Queens who took the day off to visit the museum on its opening day.
The museum opened at 10:30 a.m. on a brisk but sunny day that also brought crowds to the nearby High Line. Shortly after opening its doors, a line stretched down the street, though it moved swiftly, said Sundaram, who purchased passes in advance and only waited about 10 minutes to enter the building. Once inside, she joined two free tours of the inaugural exhibition, “America is Hard to See,” a museum-wide show of more than 600 works from the Whitney’s permanent collection.
Vendors took advantage of the assembled crowd, with four food carts lining Gansevoort Street, selling hot dogs and bringing the smoky aroma of grilled meat wafting toward the line of museumgoers. By lunchtime, Whitney staff were handing out granola bars and bottles of water to waiting patrons.
Maddy Arnstein and Miranda Warren, friends from Washington Heights, took advantage of the warm weather and walked the length of the High Line. Arnstein and Warren came to “poke around” the new, Renzo Piano-designed museum. They weren’t planning to go inside, not wanting to pay the $22 admission fee on opening day, but planned to come back.
“I’ve been watching this be built for years,” Arnstein said. “This is a big deal.”
The museum, which closed out its nearly 50-year run at the Marcel Breuer-designed building on Madison Avenue and 75th Street with a Jeff Koons retrospective last fall, has maintained a celebratory and somewhat exclusive atmosphere heading into opening day. The day before the official opening, First Lady Michelle Obama addressed invited guests at the ribbon-cutting ceremony. By opening day, many prospective visitors had likely read about and seen photographs of the building’s terraces, which offer views of the Hudson River and the Manhattan cityscape, and the 50,000 square feet of airy, open galleries that double the exhibition space of the former building, which the Whitney now leases to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
John Evans frequented the museum at its uptown location with his wife, Joyce, when he was a pastor at Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church, two blocks away. Now retired and living in Portland, Ore., the couple stopped at the new building during a visit to the city.
“It’s beautiful,” said Joyce. “This space is much more conducive to looking at art.”
Judy Perkins, from Concord, Mass., had read about the museum’s relocation and expansion for years, she said, and decided to visit the new Whitney when her planned trip to the city coincided with the museum’s opening. A onetime resident of midtown, Perkins sees the Whitney as the “anchor institution” in the neighborhood, not unlike celebrity architect Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, that will bring further change to the Meatpacking District.
“In 10 years that won’t be here,” said Perkins, gesturing at a meat processing facility just north of the museum. “This area will be the hot new spot.”
And for some, the location of the Whitney, in one of Manhattan’s more trendy and bustling districts, is part of the draw. Bronx resident Gia DiCola, who came to the museum on May 1 with a friend visiting from Los Angeles, looks forward to returning to the museum with her young children.
“I much prefer this location,” said DiCola. “I just think the Upper East Side, with all the museums, they’re old school. This has a fresh edge, more in line with the collection they have.”