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:




6 Things to Expect When the New Whitney Museum Opens Next Week

If there were a decisive blow delivered in the rivalry between downtown and uptown New York, it would be the former stealing the Whitney Museum away from the latter and placing it in the heart of the Meatpacking district. When the new Whitney Museum opens on May 1, there are a few things you can expect.

1. Nothing about Renzo Piano’s new building reeks of “statement” architecture. Rather, it is a measured, industrial-elegant structure, which decisively puts the focus on the art.

2. Spread over eight floors, the new Whitney has 18,000 feet of indoor and 13,000 feet of outdoor exhibition space. The main galleries are clean-lined, well thought out and modest; views from the terrace galleries will change the way you see New York.

3. The opening exhibition, the curiously titled America Is Hard To See (we might have called it, America Is Sometimes Best Explained Through Art) is essentially a 20th Century — and tilting into the 21st — narrative onracism, war, family, and politics, culled from the Whitney’s permanent collection. It makes perfect sense as a debut show, and decisively succeeds in its storytelling.

4. Some of the highlights to look for include: David Smith‘s Cubi XXI, 1964 (pictured above), Josh Kline‘s Cost of Living, 2014, Jean-Michel Basquiat‘s Hollywood Africans, 1983, Marisol‘s Woman and Dog, 1963-64, and Jeff Koons‘s Hoover Convertibles, 1981-1987, all pictured below.

5. Look out for featured works from blockbuster artists like Man Ray, Marsden Hartley, Kara Walker, James Rosenquist, Chuck Close, Richard Serra, Ed Ruscha, Claes Oldenburg, and Joseph Stella.

6. A Downtown reboot of Danny Meyer’s Untitled restaurant, in a sleek, glass enclosed ground floor space, under the direction of Gramercy Tavern chef Michael Anthony, opens with the museum.





Celebrating Downtown’s Brand New Max Mara Whitney Bag

View of the new Whitney Museum. Photo: Billy Farrell/

Downtown’s got a brand new bag. Along with a new museum (hello, Whitney, opening in May), a new skyline (what’s up 1WTC), and a plethora of restaurants and attractions that are bound to pop up around them, we’ve got a new accessory with which to carry our essentials below 14th Street. Renzo Piano, the starchitect for the Whitney Museum, also had a hand in the Max Mara Whitney bag, an homage to the building itself.

On Wednesday evening, the chic  (Pari Ehsan, DJ Harley Viera-NewtonLauren Remington Platt, Claire Distenfeld, Genevieve Jones, Natalie JoosJohn Buffalo Mailer, Nicolas Niarchos) gathered at the Boom Boom Room atop the Standard hotel to fete the new bag — the purse and the view of the new museum both on view for revelers to enjoy.

The limited edition bag (carried by Milly Piano) comes in a light blue to reflect the color of the new Whitney building, and only 250 are available. The bag, proceeds of which go to the Renzo Piano Building Workshop, will also come in three sizes and three colors: black, tan, and bordeaux. The bag is a tribute to the Whitney building, also designed by the Renzo Piano Building Workshop.

Rachelle Hruska and Pari Ehsan. Photo: Billy Farrell/


Maria Giulia Maramotti and Harley Viera-Newton (wearing Max Mara) next to the “Whitney” bag designed by the Renzo Piano Building Workshop for Max Mara. Photo: Billy Farrell/

Renzo Piano, Milly Piano (with the “Whitney” bag), and Luigi Maramotti. Photo: Billy Farrell/

Industry Insiders: Henry Kallan & Jozef Juck, Montenapo Men

Henry Kallan and Jozef Juck will open their new restaurant Montenapo in New York on Wednesday, May 13th. Located in the the New York Times building in a space just next to the 41st Street entrance, the upscale resto will serve Italian cuisine, with a full bar and a menu built around organic ingredients. The partners have a long history together, as both immigrated from Slovakia and entered the hospitality industry stateside. Kallan is a hotel mogul (he’s president and owner of HKHotels), while Juck is the manager of Italian powerhouse restaurant BiCE. (Update: Juck left BiCE in February 2008; Doug Alexander is the current GM. Montenapo itself closed in December 2009.) The pair — who interact like long-time friends or brothers — gave us a peek into the new joint.

What difficulties have you seen opening a restaurant in this economic climate? Henry Kallan: It’s always tough to build something in New York from a construction point of view. And now, surprisingly, building the restaurant, it wasn’t any less expensive than it would be in good times when everyone is really busy. That was an issue. We spent a lot of money, but it was self-inflicted in many ways because we always build the best, quality-wise. And because of that, it’s an occupational hazard that I can only build the best. Sometimes we say there is first-class and there is no class, and nothing in between. Oscar Wilde said, “I have very simple taste, but I only like the best.” So, that’s our approach, and I think you can see what we build in the kitchen, in the dining room, around the bar — you can recognize that we spend a lot of money.

How are you choosing the staff for Montenapo? HK: We require around 70 positions, including the chefs, cooks, waitstaff, cocktail waitresses, and busboys. Based on what Jozef tells me, we had over 1,000 applicants, and they’re people from many walks of life. The key to hiring the right people in the service world is that they have to be positive and enthusiastic. So, personality plays a key role. These are not very good times for many people, so one needs to consider that. When you look for a certain personality in an individual, you become very selective and not all of the qualified candidates have the personality we’re looking for. It’s very difficult to bring someone on as part of a team unless they truly understand and appreciate that they are here to serve the customer. I’m not saying the customer is always right, which is typically the way people would like to receive it, but at the same time, you have to be flexible and you have to be willing to do almost whatever it takes to create an ambiance and comfort level. People want to feel very much like they’re in somebody’s guest house, and that’s the kind of personality of the restaurant that we would like to create.

How did you decide on the design of the space? HK: Initially, we had a design firm, who were a very savvy group of young people who had great ideas. We gave them a budget of $3-4 million, and they came back with a budget of $8 million. So without mentioning their names, we had to terminate the relationship. We then decided to take a different approach, and use our expertise and experiences to create the space here today. We had two very instrumental architects, and with the proper lighting, the birch tree garden, and the green sod, it will have such a special ambiance here. I think this is one of the most beautiful rooms in the city with a lot of mahogany, granite, and beautiful wood floors. We tried to follow the vision of Renzo Piano, who designed the New York Times building.

How did you two conceptualize this idea? HK: I like to test myself, and I think it makes a big difference having Jozef as my partner, who is my childhood friend. We have quite a story behind us. He was 18 and I was 20 when we left Czechoslovakia. Then, he went his own way and owned several restaurants in Dallas, then he went on to Hawaii. I was in the hotel business, and I developed venues in Prague and the Czech Republic. I had some difficulties there with my partner, so I asked Jozef to come and help me out. He later took over BiCE, and he really saved the restaurant. Initially, when we came up with this idea, there were other partners, but at the end of the day, the other partners ran out of money. I think they panicked because of the economic situation, so, here we are, just Jozef and me. We’re ready to do what it takes to make it a success. So we can fill in all the gaps.

Did you have to take all of the windows into consideration? Jozef Juck: The number one issue with the windows was the transparency. When Renzo Piano was commissioned to design the building for the New York Times, he made an agreement with the city and the stated that he would have a certain transparency — that means that you could see through the building from 40th Street to 41st without any obstructions. Of course, when you design a restaurant, to have a kitchen, a dining room, and a bar, it was rather challenging. We had to redesign the restaurant twice.

What sets Montenapo apart and positions it for success? JJ: Things are very different now than they were two years ago, and we knew that we had to go the extra step, be a little bit more creative and more innovative. In the kitchen, we use the best ingredients — organic vegetables, free-range poultry, humanely raised meats — plus wild fish instead of farm-raised. In the kitchen, we use stainless steel instead of aluminum cookware. We’re going the extra mile for the customer to give them a reason to come to us. Besides that, the menu is so modern and new. Italian cuisine has not really progressed in the last 20 years in New York City, so we’re taking this to another level. We’re using recipes with healthy, natural ingredients. We make our own pastas with semolina, we bake our own breads, we’ll make our own desserts, including ice creams. This is the reason why I feel that we’ll succeed: when there is a little economic slowdown, the first thing a lot of restaurateurs do is cut down on the quality of the products, and I feel that we are doing just the opposite. We’ll buy only the choicest ingredients because I believe that you can have the best chef in the world, but if you don’t have the right product to start with you won’t be able to prepare excellent food.

Why Italian cuisine? JJ: I think everybody has certain flavors, and besides classical Chinese cuisine, Italian cuisine is the best and healthiest food in the world. It consists of natural ingredients prepared simply. You don’t use butter or flours in the sauces, and the natural ingredients are preserved. Italian cuisine also has a tradition. If you go back hundreds of years, Italians prepare exactly the same food. It’s also great comfort food. We’ve decided we’re going to feature Italian cuisine from all regions of Italy, complementing them with wine lists also from the same regions. We will feature French champagne — like Veuve Clicquot, Cristal, Moët & Chandon, Dom Perignon, Dom Bernardino — to complement our menu.

Photo: David Ferino

The Whitney, Downtown’s Newest Cool Kid

With their original plans of a towering uptown expansion bitterly (if unsuccesfully) opposed by Upper East Side preservationists, the Whitney Museum (most recently home to a Buckminster Fuller exhibition) instead is setting its sights downtown — specifically at Washington and Gansevoort Streets in the Meatpacking District. To raise $60 million towards the Renzo Piano-designed satellite, the museum is reportedly exploring the possibility of selling off a quintet of townhouses near 74th and 75th Streets. A museum spokesman adds that any potential revenue from the sale would not exclusively fund the off-site annex, but “will contribute toward a much larger fundraising effort that is already underway.” The site reassignment reduces the cost of expansion dramatically. The satellite, like much of the architecture in the neighborhood, will be low-rise but sprawling at about 50,000 square feet of gallery space.