The museum’s arrival signals another shift, too. When Breuer’s Whitney opened, New York City was a much dicier proposition. His fortress, like Frank Lloyd Wright’s Guggenheim Museum several blocks north — which contrived its own enclosed, spiral version of a vertical city — reflected ambivalence about what was outside the front door. Now New York is a safe, glamorous tourist mecca and 24-hour, family-friendly spectacle, and the new $422 million Whitney building, designed by Renzo Piano, opening May 1, lets the city pour in. Grand, columnless, rectangular galleries spill onto large, stepped terraces linked by an outdoor stairway, mimicking the neighborhood’s jumble of low- and mid-rise black-tar rooftops and aging fire escapes. The museum becomes an implicit extension of the High Line: an outdoor perch to see and be seen.
There is a rumor that art might be inside, too — though as Michael Kimmelman’s precise review of the new Whitney museum notes, that might be entirely beside the point for some (many? most?) visitors to the particular slice of Manhattan that has been carved out by the High Line, whose form increasingly and remarkably resembles a playground for a certain breed of carefully articulated money.