The New Whitney Museum as Social Network: Musings on Building, Crowd, and Views

Mark standing in front of Chuck Close’s Phil

If art is the lie that tells the truth, then there is something gorgeous about the new Whitney, some heightened sensitivity to the promises of revelation, as if it were related to an intricate algorithm that registers expression ten thousand miles away.

Renzo Piano has long responded to the vital moments when culture declares the inside out and the outside in, the uptown down and the downtown up. Perhaps more than any other architect, he has ably detected the nascent beats of emerging times and interpreted them as frozen music. Unfortunately, truly perceptive feats of association often linger unacclaimed until what has been made finally becomes music to everyone’s ears.



Michael Kimmelman of the New York Times cleverly covers his paper’s tracks and leaves a trail of pebbles for later day backsies by saying that “buildings take time to reveal their true selves.” Nevertheless, he is determined enough to presently take the stance (presumably from a desk inside a Piano masterpiece) that “the new museum isn’t a masterpiece.”

And that’s nothing compared to what Justin Davidson does. The New York Magazine’s architecture critic slams the Whitney, barely stopping short of suggesting that it should be torn down and that the sanitation department next door should throw this baby out into its Hudson River bathwater.

We’re not exaggerating. Davidson bullies the newborn building. Big time.

He kicks off his scathing review with a swift Red Hook: “There’s nothing seamless about this awkward kit of protruding parts and tilting surfaces, though: The thing might have arrived in an Ikea flat pack and then been prodigiously misassembled.”


But what appears to anger him most (and, to be fair, many other old school critics who are too timid to say so) is precisely what we find so perceptive in this building: Piano’s sense that, in this mobile and social phase of the digital age, a museum must do more than provide a secluded space for “an intense communion with art.” Through his Whitney, Piano has voiced the position that museums may no longer (query if they ever did) simply serve as sanctified loci for unbroken sequences of successful bidirectional encounters between solemnly spectating subjects and serious aesthetic objects.

Piano plays this theme out with the Whitney’s sheer permeability. And it’s not just the civic permeability that Davidson mocks as the “panoramic version of an audio guide. Made right here!” Perhaps more importantly, it’s the social and natural and technological permeability, the spectacular permeability of digi-social personhood, of “social life, urbanity, invention, construction, technology, poetry, light–an immense rich bouillabaisse,” as Piano told the New Yorker; or, as a situationist quoting Guy Debord might aver, “the social relationship between people that is mediated by images”; or, as Kevin Systrom might snap, “Instagram!”


Davidson derides Piano for architecting a building that concedes the point that, in this age of infinite distraction, museum guests may grow bored when confronted with nothing but art, for hours on end, and that those guests may need to “rest,” by perhaps doing a bit of people watching, checking a mobile feed or fifteen, ripping a selfie, or gazing out onto what really is a killer view. Oh no, Davidson’s not going to let Piano get away with even a momentary sleight of sight; he ferociously pins Piano down to one of the his distractingly transparent walls and tunes him up with the charge that “The new Whitney is a wonderful place for people who get easily bored by art.”

Not to get all Millennial, but who doesn’t get bored by endless hours of nothing but art? Newsflash: it’s not just art. We’re all bored by lengthy, logically progressing sequentiality. We’re bored by long emails, long articles (like this one), long arguments, long essays, long speeches, long books, long plays, long stories, and, yes, long sentences. #BecauseInternet.

But our new state of omnipresent boredom is not the antithesis of engagement; it acts as the precondition for and the genesis of new (or newly prominent) forms of engagement: cacophonous, polymorphous, rhizomatic, dispersed, chaotic, dialogic, and perspectival engagement. Do you know what we find engaging, even for long stretches of time? The simultaneity, surprise, sensation and serendipity we discover in whole new worlds — and that’s why we’re addicted to social networks. And that’s why we love the Whitney’s world.

Long before the Internet, Saul Steinberg, the cartoonist whose Manhattan-centric wit partially inspired the building even happened to argue that boredom and creativity go hand in hand, “The life of the creative man is lead, directed and controlled by boredom. Avoiding boredom is one of our most important purposes.”

So we refuse to let Davidson and his pre-digital critical tribe pressure us into pretending that we don’t wonder what kind of cell phone signal we’d get in his “medieval room at the Met,” or that Breuer’s brutalism beams us “from the actual world into the [Wonkaesque world of pure] imagination.”

We’re not about to filter our gaze and muffle our ears to what Piano, his partners Mark Carroll, Elisabetta Trezzani, and the entire RPBW team have accomplished with this blessed new Whitney. We’re not about to qualify our superlative assessment. Perhaps because we’re impatient, we refuse to wait the years that Kimmelman claims a building needs to “reveal itself.” We refuse to wait a moment longer.

Though this may be hard to hear, we wish to hereby declare that the new Whitney is an unqualified masterpiece. Effective immediately.


It’s not like we just got out hair done at Sally Hershberger by the amazing Travis, splurged on some Junya at Jeffrey, had a blast at the opening party with Sarah Jessica Parker and Dakota Fanning (who glowed in the sunset-lit galleries like a little angel in all-white Max Mara), stared at Solange like she was an exotic bird, tried to party with Betsey Johnson like it was the 80s, attempted to talk about the Diving Bell and the Butterfly with Julian Schnabel, and then cracked open iA Writer over tinis and lobster at Perry Street and declared this museum a masterpiece.


Sarah Jessica Parker. Photo:

Dakota Fanning. Photo:

Solange. Photo:

Betsey Johnson. Photo:

Julian Schnabel. Photo:

Well, yeah, ok, we did do all that, but then we, like, woke up the next day and developed a thesis — and we will indeed argue it persuasively, logically and sequentially, Mr. Davidson (even as we admit that, yes, it may bore the bejesus out of many intelligent people in our generation who will close out of this screen, skip our polemics, and do something more engaging with their time, for which we refuse to blame them).

The new Whitney is not merely a museum. It is a new model for a museum: the museum as social network (#MSN). The #MSNWhitney, owing to the focus of its world, happens to be connected to asking and responding to the question of what is American Art (to paraphrase and co-opt Whitney’s chief curator Donna De Salvo). But the concept of an #MSN is bigger than any one question or any one museum world. It is the plausible now of the museum as such. It is the museum as the simultaneous experience of worlding.

When the Whitney last moved from downtown, uptown to Breuerville in 1966, Foucault had just finished The Order of Things. 2015 marks another watershed moment in the history of visible thought: Piano, who, lest we forget, put Lyotard’s postmodern condition on display in the Marais, is playing with us in a whole new way.


Jerry Saltz wants to agree with us, even though his colleague, Justin Davidson, is our beloved building’s biggest bully. We heart Jerry Saltz almost as much as we hate the word “hermeneutics,” so it would mean so much to us if he took our side. And he’s already come out as a huge fan of new Whitney (though he punts on matters of architectural worth to Justin Davidson), but we believe that we can persuade him because we share the Saltzian conceptual analogy about how art is best experienced.

Saltz sees art as a synchronic, polyphonic conversation, whose rightful participants are the artists, the artworks, the characters and forces emerging from those artworks, the curators who dramaturgically stage and shape the whole shebang, and, of course, the visitors who — for 22 bucks a pop — get to step right up with their own curious worlds hanging out in full relief.

And that’s why Saltz dislikes the all those museumed screeches of starchitectural hubris. It’s so hard to hear what the art is saying when your venue keeps screaming its name like Daryl Hannah in Splash (and that’s true irrespective of whether teeming droves will pay a fee to see the mermaid). Naturally, Saltz dislikes the MoMA redesign because it privileges empty event space over additional evocative artworks. And he mocks the Stellaphilic conch Gehry has built in Bilbao, because it’s a place lacking in other rooms where other voices of art may properly converse.

Saltz sees the new Whitney as brilliant in its unobtrusive humility and spaciousness, but we wish to persuade him that it is in fact the manifestation of a profound new insight about how to frame the artversation in the mobile phase of the digital age, how to frame the world of art amidst the many distractions of the now.

We wish to suggest that calling it a great building because it’s unobtrusive is a bit like saying that Instagram is brilliant platform because it gets out of the way and just lets people share pictures. Like Instagram, the Whitney’s #MSN is a brand new medium, and a million subtle decisions go into building any successful social product. We believe that it is even more important to recognize this building’s greatness because those decisions are ultimately obscured by the careless impression of the bricoleur’s Sprezzatura.

Yeah, we just said that the Whitney is the Instagram of Museums. Which is to say that there’s no way to logically explain it (we’ll spare you talk of minimum viable museum products and rapid iteration) save to say that, like Instagram, it somehow strikes the right balance between action at a distance and tangible addiction, the personal and the social, and, in Newmanesque zips, it achieves the sublime heights of lyrical simultaneity.


Why did we end our first night at this museum at Perry Street wolfing down Cedric’s lobster? Because Richard Meier is the founding architect of Manhattan’s West Coast.

To him tribute must be paid. He deserves a shout out. That’s why, on Friday night, we poured a drop of our ‘tinis onto Sriracha-encrusted tuna.

Meier set the tone and established the idiom of Manhattan’s West Coast. White bright, light bright; he turned on the magic of shining light.

Before Piano’s Whitney set sail, before Gehry iglooed Barry Diller, before Nouvel shattered glass, Richard Meier landed on Perry Street at the turn of the Millenium.

And New Yorkers hated it. The reaction of all (save for Vincent Gallo) was something like, “He better Get-ty that California crap out of Gotham!” It was practically all anyone could talk about in that oh-so-innocent summer before 9/11.

And now look around! Save for one Stern brown reminder of superiority and absolute power, all the notable structures have embraced Meier’s pallet.

Guess who coined the term “Meiericity”? We’re often accused of neologisming all over the place, but it was not we. ‘Twas the Grey lady.



We couldn’t help but wonder why they let Frost title the inaugural exhibition “America Is Hard to See”? It’s a nice line ‘n all, but the poem itself is a biter screed against Christopher Columbus, “all he did was spread the room of enacting out the doom.” Now, we’re not saying that’s not true (and we wouldn’t disagree with Neil Young about Cortez being a killer) but icy metrical condemnation doesn’t capture the vibe of this new, big, light, contradictory, polymorphously permeable Whitney.

You know who’d better serve the inverted double sail, the persistent on-beating, against the current, of great gamma Gertrude’s art, busting and pulsing out of Experimental Jet Set’s fluctuating W, running faster, stretching farther…

It’s so obvious.

Walt Whitman:

“Do I contradict myself?

Very well then I contradict myself;

(I am large, I contain multitudes.)”

The opening exhibition should have been titled:




Frank Gehry’s Spectacular Fondation Louis Vuitton Opens

In late October, the Fondation Louis Vuitton contemporary art museum opened in Paris’ Bois de Boulogne, and there’s every reason to believe that the children playing in the nearby Jardin d’Acclimatation zoological garden will mistake it for un monstre mal.

But le musee will in fact be home to a dazzling, zeitgeisty collection featuring works by Ellsworth Kelly, Olafur Eliasson, Pierre Huyghe and Christian Boltanski, amongst other exalted art world names. Its inaugural feature exhibition will be an encomium to the aesthetically confrontational architect himself: Frank Gehry will run through March 2015.

In the meantime, for an appropriate dose of inaugural cultural frisson, Kraftwerk plays a run of shows through November 14.

Here’s what it all looks like.

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These Fendi Beachfront Dream Homes Could Be Yours

Along with Château Group, Fendi has set up camp along prime Miami waterfront, just two blocks south of the luxury shops at Bal Harbour. When it’s finished in summer 2016, the 12-story condo building’ll host 58 residences — and the residents will be setting down slightly more cash than they would on a Fendi bag, considering the condos clock in anywhere between $5 and $22 million. Perhaps some of your clothing budget can be reallocated? That spend’ll get you Fendi Casa fixtures and fittings, access to a private restaurant, a ballroom, beachfront pools, reflective pools, and an aromatherapy relaxation terrace.

FENDI Chateau Residences 3 FENDI Chateau Residences 4 FENDI Chateau Residences 5 FENDI Chateau Residences 8 FENDI Chateau Residences 9 FENDI Chateau Residences10

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Frank Gehry-Designed Foundation Louis Vuitton Sets Opening Date

On October 27, 2014, the Foundation Louis Vuitton will open its doors in Paris to the public, offering on view the works of contemporary artists, the architectural designs of Frank Gehry, and the verdant surroundings of the Jardin d’Acclimatation.

1-Fondation Louis Vuitton @ Iwan Baan, 2014

LVMH’s Bernard Arnault commissioned the Gehry-designed structure and foundation, and its first exhibition will feature a project designed specifically for the foundation by its architect. The exhibition will run concurrently with Gehry’s first European retrospective, held at the Centre Pompidou.

Images courtesy of the Foundation Louis Vuitton

Sexy and the Sexless: Frédéric Malle on New Stores and New Scents

Frédéric Malle in his new West Village store

“If you don’t like your boyfriend, you go” thwack, a smack Frédéric Malle mimes with a block of aluminum foam, a material that makes up the walls in Malle’s new store. For such an elegant man, he’s awfully feisty. The opening of the Frédéric Malle Greenwich Avenue store marks the first time this aluminum foam has been used in the United States. It’s a futuristic material; very light, but rigid. The foam, mixed with the walnut wood on the semi-circle display sculpture creates a very simple, Zen, unique space.

Never mind that he’s built a collection of intoxicating fragrances so luxurious and thoughtful, or that he has essentially created a publishing house for perfume, working with top perfumers to build his brand’s library — scent may be the most important thing about Frédéric Malle, but architecture follows right on top of its heels.

Malle’s first shop opened in Paris 14 years ago on June 6; his second in New York, (another is on Madison Avenue,) a West Village location, opens again on the same date, this Friday. “I’m very superstitious,” he explains.

Nestled on Greenwich Avenue, the shop contains its own uniquely warm and modern world. Step through the complex-seeming door, and it’s as if only that space exists.

“God is in the details with these things, and you have to work with god. I work with gods here,” he says, gesturing to the perfumes on display, “So I’ve got to work with gods of architecture… My idea was to put a drawer of modernity done as one piece within the building, and designed by a great architect that would do everything.”

That great architect is Steven Holl. Holl spends his mornings painting watercolors of future projects, and for Malle’s, the idea that fragrance “feeds two parts of the brain” tied both to memory and imagery, inspired Holl’s watercolors of two semi-circles not exactly parallel to one another, a motif rendered on the floor, the wall, the door, and in the secret garden out back.

stevenhollfredericmalleA Steven Holl watercolor from the Frédéric Malle project

Holl mainly had his way; Malle’s only requirements in the shop were the inclusion of portraits of the perfumers who’ve created fragrances for Frédéric Malle, they hang above the cabinet where the refrigerated cabinet where fragrances are stored, (requirement two,) and the smelling columns that Malle invented himself.

Holl also brought in Hervé Descottes, the best lighting designer in the world, according to Malle, who lights projects and buildings for Frank Gehry. Thee lighting is still being finalized when I’m there, but the system is in place for the design to change throughout the day, depending on the light outside.

The salespeople at Frédéric Malle aren’t the kind who stand idly by as customers blindly spray perfumes in the air — you can forget blotters, too. “You won’t have the faintest idea what you will be smelling of” that way, says Malle. Customers at Frédéric Malle experience scent through one of the perfumer/publisher’s own creations, a sort of booth ventilation system built specially into the walls, made of glass cylinders that a fragrance is sprayed into. Poke your head in and as Malle says, “sense the aura.” Try it on for size, make sure it fits. There are three of these cylinders in Malle’s new shop. This after a quick analysis and recommendation based on a customer’s mannerisms, volume control, and even his or her style of hair.

Your appearance and personality may dictate a preference for perfume, who you are will have something to do with what you say through choice of scent.

“Very fresh, citrus fragrances are sexless. And they convey an idea of being clean. And so it’s like a deluxe extension of toiletry. A shower that lasts forever. Or as long as possible,” says Malle.

The anti sexless option then might be the woodier scents.

“This sort of oak musk/patchouli, woody fragrance, of even Orientals based on amber and vanilla… all of these smell of a woman’s skin, and are basically shouting ‘I smell like that when I’m naked.’ It’s sort of that. That’s what a fragrance is about when you think of it… These are very sexual.”

And they work well on both men and women.

Land somewhere in the middle and you wind up with a floral fragrance, which Malle prescribes exclusively for women.

“A white flower, a gardenia, will never work on a man. Unless you want to make a point that you smell like a woman,” he says.

A man maybe shouldn’t wear florals, but a masculine scent on a woman is another story.

“As much as you wear big Rolexes, men’s clothes, which is a way to say, ‘I have a boyfriend,’ or ‘I am so pretty that I can wear men’s clothes.’ It’s a sort of neo-Chanel type of gesture.”

Back to the architecture… The garden in the back features a fountain inspired by Carlo Scarpa and designed by Holl. Malle has created the garden as a treat for himself; it’s not for customers, though if you hang out in the shop enough, you may be lucky enough to receive an invitation for prosecco in the garden. Bonne chance.

Frédéric Malle and his Scarpa-inspired fountain

Frédéric Malle’s West Village store opens Friday, June 6 and is located at 94 Greenwich Avenue, New York.

Pulitzer Prize Winner Discusses NYC’s New Architectural Gilded Age

No. 8 Café Society played host as The Week magazine and The Committee (cultural programmers for the arts community) teamed up to present House of Outrageous Fortune: Fifteen Central Park West, The World’s Most Powerful Address, a conversation with author Michael Gross and Pulitzer Prize-winning architectural critic Paul Goldberger. The New Gilded Age of architectural development was the conversation at hand, discussing the rising urban buildings in New York City. The conversation encompassed the rapid progress and expansion of commercial and residential developments on the island that seems to only be soaring in height.

The literature and real-estate keen crowd soaked up the sparkling, fabulous, spinning chandelier at No. 8 as sliders and mini grilled cheeses made their way through for hungry patrons. Quenching a thirst, the booze was pouring with gluten free vodka and a specialty cocktail that made summer feel like it was a couple months early (sigh).

Paul and Michael

Photos via @thecommitteenyc 

First Look At Richard Wilson’s ‘Slipstream’ At Heathrow

What you’re looking at here is a CGI rendering of Slipstream, a massive public sculpture by Britain’s Richard Wilson that will be installed in London Heathrow Airport’s new Terminal 2.

The aluminum work was fabricated in collaboration with Commercial Systems International and its form is intended to conjure “an imagined flight path of a Zivko Edge 540 stunt plane.” Like many of Wilson’s sculptures, Slipstream plays with the viewer’s perception and introduces an element of perceptual wrongness or danger into the environment. “I’ve always been concerned with the ways you can change architectural space–whether it be a room or a whole building–to alter your perception, to knock your view of the world off-kilter,” he once wrote. (Personally, I’d have been delighted to see an iteration of his classic 20:50 for Heathrow, but filling an airport terminal with several feet of engine oil is probably prohibitive for logistical reasons).

Terminal 2 itself has been designed by Madrid-based Luis Vidal + Architects; a rendering of the structure’s exterior is below. There’ll be a media launch for Slipstream on April 23, and the terminal itself will be open for business on June 4.

Heathrow, computer generated image of the new Terminal 2 building at night.

Someone (Barney’s) Got A Little Work Done

In case you hadn’t heard, our beloved Barney’s had a little something done at both the Beverly Hills and Madison Avenue locations. As if carrying some of the most amazing beauty products weren’t enough (hi Byredo candles… what’s up MAKE face gloss…) the department store beautified itself for our benefit. By reaching out to Steven Harris Architects to ensure optimal results, Barney’s really hit a home run. Steven Harris himself was kind enough to answer a few burning beauty questions (like, how did you manage to make it/us look so good?) See if you can finish clicking through before dashing across or uptown for a beauty splurge.


“We sought to make the shopper look as beautiful as possible within the space by using ample ambient light and lighting from below,” said principal architect himself, Steven Harris. Must remember “lighting from below” for the next bathroom renovation…


“Interior designer Eleanor Lemaire’s design for the original Bullocks Wilshire store was a guiding influence throughout. When designing the fixtures, we took major inspiration from Damien Hirst’s medicine cabinet series and Donald Judd ‘s steel boxes,” said Harris. (Donald Judd’s steel boxes are pictured.)



Damien Hirst’s medicine cabinet.



… and that all makes visual sense.

The lighting is all designed to emphasize the beautiful bottles and packaging. Harris told me “the perfume display lights all the bottles from below so that their intricacies emerge and they seem to glow from within. Our fixtures allow the beauty brands to be identified more by packaging than by the individual boutiques- brand identity rather than the approach.”


Also, now you can get your spa on at Barney’s – see: this new treatment room. So zen. Say it with me… ohm.


“We want the shopper to feel beautiful when they enter the space and throughout the shopping experience…” said Harris. “We also want them to feel pampered, an objective that we addressed [with] sumptuous finishes, special pieces of furniture, and moments of pause within the store’s circulation.” So if you’re jonesing for a beauty binge, get thee to a Barney’s, stat. The whole experience is bound to be gorgeous.

Farewell 5Pointz: Visit While You Still Can

The landmark factory building and world-famous “graffiti mecca” known as 5Pointz is officially on death row, having lost its latest battle against the landlord and developers who want to see it razed to make room for two luxury apartment buildings. Named to signify the coming together of all five NYC boroughs, 5Pointz encompasses 200,000 square feet of artist studios, galleries and walls covered in graffiti art.

“I made something special with the 5pointz—not me, but the artists,” Jeffrey Wolkoff, the building’s owner, told WNYC. “I created it, a vision, and we’re going to do something special on these buildings, something special by the time we’re finished with it.”

Marie Flageul, a spokesperson for 5Pointz artists, doesn’t see anything special about another luxury doorman building going up in New York, and in this case, she says it’s harming the creative community: “Long Island City is not Williamsburg. Long Island City is not Dumbo. Long Island City has been struggling from day one to keep an artists scene. And everything they’re doing in developing Long Island City is pushing out the artists.”

According the 5Pointz website, founder and curator Jonathan Cohen, a graffiti veteran mostly known through his tag Meres One, had “plans to convert the five-story, block-long industrial complex at Jackson Avenue and Davis Street into a graffiti museum.” He had been seeking a 501(c)3 certification for 5Pointz to receive tax-exempt status, which would have allowed tax-deductible donations. But instead, LIC will be getting two apartment towers, both more than 40 stories.

The site also notes: “Over the past decade, the striking, graffiti-covered warehouse has attracted several hip-hop and R&B stars, including Doug E. Fresh, Kurtis Blow, Grandmaster Kaz, Mobb Deep, Rahzel, DJ JS-1, Boot Camp Clik, Joan Jett, and Joss Stone.”

A small concession has been made, however. Wolkoff, who let artists cover his building in graffiti since 2002—including a celebrated portrait of the one of hip-hop’s founding fathers, Jam-Master Jay—said that the new buildings will have an arts space “for some artists, not graffiti, but regular artists.”

Not sure what a “regular artist” is, but for fans and purveyors of aerosol-based art, it’s a sad day—and time to make one last pilgrimage to the place known as the “Institute of Higher Burnin’.” The apartment complex’s residents will have to get their art fix from nearby MoMA/PS1, a converted public school that does feature some works painted directly on its interior walls (like Richard Artschwager’s famous pill-shaped “blips“).

Historically, graffiti has generally been viewed by the ruling class as vandalism, but it has found a warm embrace within the confines of contemporary art. Curator and art dealer Jeffrey Deitch, for example, has been a strong defender, having been involved with graffiti and street art culture for three decades.

Deitch’s first show in New York following his recent resignation from MOCA opens today at Leila Heller Gallery and reprises “Calligraffiti,” an exploration of Middle Eastern street art and calligraphy that he curated in 1984. The exhibition is timely. Just this month, the Amman, Jordan-based news website Al Bawaba observed that “[g]raffiti, once the trade of thugs and unruly teens, is having something of a second coming in the Middle East.”

Indeed, while many see graffiti as a scourge, it has often proven to be a unifying social force, particularly for communities that have undergone periods of shared hardship. In her essay “Graffiti as Trash Rhetoric: Debating the Future of New Orleans through its Public Space,” Doreen Piano, associate professor at the University of New Orleans, notes “graffiti’s role in the city’s recovery, engendering a vibrant local writing culture.”

And then of course, there is the art form’s lighter side. “Graffiti is one of the few tools you have if you have almost nothing,” wrote graffiti artist and street art provocateur Banksy in his book Banging Your Head Against a Brick Wall. “And even if you don’t come up with a picture to cure world poverty you can make someone smile while they’re having a piss.”

For more information about 5Pointz, visit their website.

image: Ezmosis