For the London Review of Books, Hal Foster writes about the Met Breuer, and the place the building occupies in New York's museum landscape. He also writes about the museum's opening exhibitions, and the Met's newfound ability to show its contemporary holdings. Check out the text in partial below, or the full version here.
When a beloved building goes dark, a hole opens in the urban fabric: so it was when the Whitney Museum left its old home on New York’s Upper East Side, constructed by Marcel Breuer in blunt granite and concrete in 1966. Its new headquarters, designed by Renzo Piano in elegant steel and glass, opened in Chelsea last May. For many months a cultural beacon in uptown Manhattan was dimmed, and the architectural dialogue between the inverted grey ziggurat of the Whitney on Madison Avenue and the expansive white spiral of the Guggenheim on Central Park, another masterpiece of late modernist building-as-sculpture created by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1959, was suspended. But now the Metropolitan Museum has taken over the old Whitney for exhibitions of modern and contemporary art, and, at least for the time being, the building, renamed the Breuer, looks much as its architect conceived it. Its bright lobby is cleared of commercial clutter, its signature bluestone floors, gridded concrete ceilings and great hooded windows are cleaned up, and its moat patio under the gangway entrance is planted with alders. With this restoration (done by Beyer Blinder Belle for $15 million), the Breuer becomes the prime artwork in the modern holdings of the Met. Yet the building is only on lease from the Whitney for eight years, and neither party will say what will happen afterwards.
For the interim it is a good arrangement. The Whitney had tried to extend its exhibition space for decades, but proposals of various merit by Michael Graves, Rem Koolhaas and Piano were all shot down, largely because of the effect they would have had on adjacent brownstones which, though nondescript, had landmark status. With the new deal the Whitney could leave uptown, and appear generous in doing so, while the Met could signal a new relationship to modern and contemporary art, which it rarely foregrounded under the thirty-year directorship of the traditionalist Philippe de Montebello. It didn’t help that the Met had stuck its 20th-century collection in a badly scaled wing at the very back of its immense building on Fifth Avenue (driven by donor ego, such wings rarely fly, architecturally or museologically). It was unfortunate too that the modern department favoured exhibitions from outside curators that were often a bust (an overblown Pop show in 2012 springs to mind), and shows of famous collectors which, however important (Gertrude Stein and Alfred Stieglitz were recent subjects), still put the museum at a remove from art practice and art history alike. In short, the Met appeared aloof from modern and contemporary work, and even though artists love to explore its galleries, a gulf remained between its uptown and their downtown.
*Image of the Met Breuer via Vanity Fair and the Met