Sotheby’s has announced plans to acquire the Whitney Museum of American Art’s Breuer Building on the corner of Madison Avenue and 75th Street and relocate its York Avenue galleries and salesroom to the space in 2025. According to a Bloomberg report, the auction house will purchase the Brutalist building for approximately $100 million.
Designed by Bauhaus-trained architect Marcel Breuer, the building has had its share of occupants since it was erected. It was first the third home to the Whitney from 1966 until 2014, before the museum moved into its current residence in the Meatpacking District in May 2015. The Breuer building was then occupied by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, which used the space to display contemporary art in what some criticized as a burdensome endeavor that forced the institution to divvy up its resources during a time of financial stress. Then, in 2021, it became the temporary home of the Frick Collection while the institution’s 70th Street headquarters underwent renovations; the Frick is set to reopen its Fifth Avenue mansion in 2024.
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The mid-century building initially received mixed reviews when it was completed in 1966, considered heavy and oppressive. Writing for the New York Herald Tribune, critic Emily Genauer reportedly christened the structure “the Madison Avenue Monster.” Reception has since softened, and the Breuer Building is often cited as a notable Brutalist landmark.
Notably, the Breuer Building’s previous tenants have all been museums: This is the first time a commercial enterprise will occupy the space. The relocation will place the auction house in closer proximity to both mega-galleries like Gagosian and Mnuchin and the public institutions lining Museum Mile in a move not everyone is pleased with.
Visual theorist and activist Nicholas Mirzoeff, a professor in the Department of Media, Culture and Communication at New York University, called the acquisition a “sad mess.”
“The 19th-century museum displayed imperial loot as part of a network of white supremacy connecting it to statues and borders. Today’s extractive capitalism has replaced that network with one linking art fairs to auctions and galleries,” said Mirzoeff, whose most recent book White Sight: Visual Politics and Practices of Whiteness (2023) tackles the ways in which visual culture perpetuates systems of oppression. “Sotheby’s acquiring — to use the old obfuscation for loot — the Whitney marks the new highpoint of art as the display of oligarchical acquisition.”
The news of Sotheby’s acquisition plans comes less than three months since Whitney Museum Director Adam Weinberg announced he will be departing the institution in the fall after 20 years at its helm.