So far, the new Whitney Museum is a roaring success. Critics are swooning. Upscale party planners are climbing over one another to reserve event spaces. Celebrities are tweeting out selfies of themselves in front of works by Jasper Johns and Warhol.
All of this has happened before the public has stepped foot into the place. That happens this weekend, and the new museum, a hulking space on the Hudson, will finally face its most important test. Will tourists jam the West Village? Will the food trucks that have invaded the Met appear out of nowhere? Will out-of-towners overwhelm New Yorkers in the ticket line?
It likely will take months, even years, for the museum to settle into its new home. What we love now we may ultimately find annoying, and vice versa. Renzo Piano, the Whitney’s star architect, told us that buildings are like that; it takes awhile for them to settle into themselves and their surroundings.
What the new Whitney has done, though, is make very clear a shift in the tectonic plates of power and prestige in the city. If you’re looking for where the money in New York in – and, by extension, the cultural cache that tends to follow it – you have to look downtown. And you need to focus that attention on Chelsea, whose remarkably swift ascendancy will only be sped up by the arrival of the Hudson Yards that are a 15-minute walk from the new museum.
This is the way New York grows and stays vibrant. Neighborhoods and communities molt and shift, new ones rise as old ones settle down.
The arrival of a new museum downtown – actually, the return of an old museum to its downtown roots – is as good as excuse as any to see those changes in action.