How does a museum move? “Be careful,” says Donna De Salvo: Her colleagues pack more than 14,000 works of art worth many hundreds of millions of dollars in special boxes, upholster them, seal them and insure them. Then they are transported in trucks across Manhattan, from the Upper East Side to the Meatpacking District.
Since 2006 De Salvo has worked as chief curator of the Whitney Museum in New York, one of the most prestigious US art collections. She previously worked for London’s Tate Modern, the world‘s largest museum of modern art.
About the move, she says: “This is the greatest challenge of my life.”
Like an asymmetrical tin box
The Whitney has one of the most spectacular collections of contemporary art: paintings, drawings, sculptures, photos and installations by masters such as Andy Warhol, Keith Haring, Edward Hopper, Jackson Pollock and Robert Rauschenberg. So far, much of it has disappeared in the camps, while the overcrowded halls at popular exhibitions have become unreasonable.
By early May, the museum will move from its narrow 1960s parent house to a building three times its size on the Hudson River. It is New York City’s first new museum building of this dimension since the world-famous Guggenheim opened in 1959.
De Salvo leads through the shell construction. Hall-high windows open to the river. For De Salvo like “in a great apartment”. An extremely luxurious apartment: The design comes from the star architect Renzo Piano, who also designed the Center Pompidou and the London tower “The Shard”. Piano’s design and construction cost $ 422 million. Add to that $ 338 million for moving, utilities, and the museum foundation. The whole thing is financed by donations and the leasing of the old house to the Metropolitan Museum.
The new building looks like an asymmetrical tin box. It stands at the beginning of the High Line, an ex-elevated railway line that has been upgraded to a park. Its architecture and view attract five million visitors a year. All around, the Meatpacking District, formerly slaughterhouses and sex clubs, is developing into a cultural enclave: ideal for a museum that wants a young audience.
With 19,000 square meters of space – including 6,000 square meters of galleries, a theater, roof terraces and the largest column-free hall in New York – the piano building offers plenty of space.
Great location after a long odyssey
“The location is pretty incredible,” says De Salvo. Moving was also a matter of necessity. The bunker in the old building was too small shortly after it opened in 1966. The museum, founded in 1930, had a long odyssey behind it. His first home was in the West Village, just a 15-minute walk from the future location.
After a long delay, mainly due to the financial crisis, the foundation stone was laid in 2011. The inauguration is scheduled for May 1st. After that, the Whitney hopes to give the Museum of Modern Art serious competition.
The old building closed in October after a major Jeff Koons retrospective. Since then, world-famous works such as Warhol’s “Marilyn” have been moved to the Hudson just as carefully as office chairs, the only furniture that should be included. Packaging is an art in itself: boxes in boxes with insulating foam in between.
There were problems before the move: Hurricane “Sandy” flooded the basement of the shell in 2012. Engineers from Hamburg then invented a system of steel locks weighing several tons that now secure the Hudson side. And: no work of art can be found lower than 15 meters above the river level.
De Salvo is currently designing the opening show using wooden models and computer simulations. Again and again she lets herself be distracted by the view from the windows. Outside, the rush hour traffic pushes its way down the West Side Highway, as it does every evening. “That’s the rhythm of life,” she says. A rhythm that is so important for art.