A downtown Whitney?
There appears to be a lot of controversy coming from the Whitney board about creating a second museum in NYC. There is no doubt that there is a major cost associated with building the actual space. Of course there is also the underlying fear that you will build a museum and there will be no visitors or not enough to support the museum.
Here is what I have to say to the naysayers on the board. Think out of the box. Stop being set in your ways. Be bold. Set new paths. Just do it. You have managed to be bold in acquiring new art over the past 10 years.
The Whitney has amassed a collection of over 18,000 pieces. Think about that. 18,000 pieces that are being held in a relatively small building on the Upper East Side. The Whitney is one of my favorite museums. They are true to their mission and the exhibits for the most part are well curated. They have collected American contemporary artists, mostly emerging that have obviously emerged since the onset. I'd love to see the 18,000 piece collection but the majority of people have not because of the size of the institution. It can't house that much art.
The growth of downtown NYC is obvious. You don't even have to read the numbers, just walk around the street. Tourists didn't roam the Meatpacking District 10 years ago or did they walk up and down Bleeker Street. That has all changed. The Highline is packed daily and the Whitney would sit at one end of the Highline, basically Gansevoort Street. I bet there are many people, like the 20 and 30 year olds, who come to NYC and never make their way uptown. They don't have to anymore.
The Whitney would be located south of Chelsea which is packed with galleries. Galleries are a very different animal than a museum. Galleries after all are in the business of selling art while helping to nurture the careers of the artists they represent. Many people don't feel comfortable walking into galleries. Museums make art accessible to the public. Museum do public good after all and aren't they non-profit institutions.
Chart new territories. Uptown NYC is a completely different area with a different audience than downtown. Having a downtown museum won't take away from the uptown traffic. If the shows are fantastic and the restaurant is great, people will come. The board of the Whitney should consider creating an advisory board, from people who understand the downtown culture. The other museum downtown is the New Museum that has yet to put up an exhibit that is of interest to a broad audience but has put on shows that have an edge towards the eccentric. Make sure the advisory board of the Whitney understands the fine line between opening the world of art to the pedestrian world while still having a bit of an edge. After all, the Whitney has the art to do shows like that.
Not building a Whitney downtown is shortsighted. Get with the program, look at what is happening in downtown NYC and the growth of Brooklyn. Eventually the waterfront between lower Manhattan and Brooklyn will be loaded with transportation that will make it easy to get back and forth just as quickly as jumping on a subway. Be bold but be smart. The opportunities are here. Just do it.