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The Whitney heads downtown

Digital rendering of Guyton\Walker’s installation on the site of the Whitney Museum’s new building at the southern entrance to the High Line. (Courtesy of the Whitney Museum)

Public installations herald the museum’s controversial expansion

The Whitney Museum of American Art is staking claim to a new downtown location.

The museum will kick start its planned expansion with a series of large-scale public art installations encompassing part of the High Line, a former rail line-turned-park in New York City’s meatpacking district.

“Whitney on Site: New Commissions Downtown,” three projects that will be on view from May to October, will be built at the park’s entrance. The city-owned location at Washington and Gansevoort Streets is also the site slated for the Whitney’s future downtown digs.

Each of the works will remain up for about six weeks and use printed vinyl and other attachments to encompass the High Line’s 450-foot outer fence. The artists—Barbara Kruger, Tauba Auerbach and Guyton\Walker, the collaborative duo of Wade Guyton and Kelley Walker—have all participated in the Whitney Biennial, the museum’s signature exhibition.

Guyton\Walker’s project, which launches the series on May 8, creates a mural-like wrapping out of vinyl printed with colorful graphics and images of zebras and bananas. “Guyton\Walker has always exhibited in galleries and museum spaces,” says Scott Rothkopf, a curator at the Whitney. “This is a chance for them to insert something into a space where people won’t even realize they’re looking at art.”

More than a million visitors are expected at the High Line this summer. As part of a changing neighborhood, the location is something the artists can respond to. “In a sense,” Rothkopf says, ‘they’re capturing the spirit of the neighborhood.”

The Whitney’s planned expansion, a new, 185,000-square-foot building designed by architect Renzo Piano, has been met with some opposition. A 131-million-dollar donation by Estée Lauder heir Leonard Lauder stipulated that the museum not sell its uptown Madison Avenue location. And while board members critical of the expansion plan claim the 680-million-dollar price tag is untenable, supporters view it as a necessity. The Whitney has nearly 18,000 works in its collection, but the current space can only display about 150 at a time. The downtown site will also showcase younger and more contemporary artists.

Rothkopf characterizes the expansion as being “really crucial” to the Whitney’s future, and the installations as a way for the museum to announce its presence in a slightly under-the-radar way. “After October,’ he says, “there won’t really be any trace of these projects.”

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