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Critics questioned if the sale of the former Whitney Museum of American Art really marked a continuation of the building's original purpose.

Sotheby’s Buys Breuer Building, Art World Grieves

Exterior of the Breuer Building facing Madison Avenue, New York. Photo: Max Touhey. Courtesy Sotheby's.

Sotheby's announced that it will purchase the iconic former home of the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York. The auction house will take possession of the building when the Frick Collection moves out in September 2024.

Sotheby's will open the Breuer building to visitors in 2025 following a refurbishment that will include an auction room and publicly accessible exhibition and display spaces, for viewing art before it is sent off to auction.

Since the Whitney moved to its new Renzo Piano-designed space in the Meatpacking District in 2015, the building has been home to first the Met Breuer and then the Frick Collection.

Interior lobby of the Breuer Building. Photo: Max Touhey.

Interior lobby of the Breuer Building. Photo: Max Touhey. Courtesy Sotheby's.

Sotheby's Chief Executive Charles Stewart claimed in The New York Times that 'the use of the building will be consistent with the reason it was built', and that 'there is a continuum'.

Some members of the New York art world were unconvinced.

'The sale strikes me as incredibly sad, a loss, some sort of surrender to the inevitable', said art critic Jerry Saltz in an article titled Requiem for a Museum.

'It is an auction house now, which will both alter the character of the Breuer and turn it into a symbol of how the art world has changed since the building went up' with money as its focus, Saltz said.

'At least the Breuer won't be a department store or high-end office building,' he conceded.

Exterior of the Breuer Building facing Madison Avenue, New York. Photo: Max Touhey.

Exterior of the Breuer Building facing Madison Avenue, New York. Photo: Max Touhey. Courtesy Sotheby's.

Visual theorist, activist and NYU professor Nicholas Mirzoeff, described the acquisition as a 'sad mess' calling it 'the new highpoint of art as the display of oligarchical acquisition'.

Objections aside, the offer satisfied management at the Whitney Museum who said the building is no longer fit for the museum's purposes.

Whitney Director Adam Weinberg described the deal as bittersweet but noted the building was built to display large easel paintings and art has long since moved on.

'We don't want to be landlords,' he said. —[O]

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