Sotheby's, Sotheby's Auction, Sotheby's Realty

Sotheby’s Acquires Iconic Whitney Breuer Building as New Global Headquarters

Photo by Max Touhey, courtesy Sotheby's

[Author’s Note: The following blog post is a rewrite of an article initially published by Architectural Record.]

In an exciting announcement on June 1, Sotheby’s, the renowned New York-based auction house, revealed its acquisition of the historic Whitney Breuer building at 945 Madison Avenue in Manhattan. This iconic structure, known for its unique architectural design, will serve as Sotheby’s new global headquarters. The news marks yet another chapter in the building’s rich history, which began in 1966 when the Whitney Museum of American Art commissioned it.

Initially designed by Marcel Breuer, a Bauhaus-trained architect, the Whitney Breuer building was intended to be the first permanent home for the Whitney Museum, which was previously itinerant. Breuer aimed to create a space that was both independent and immersed in history, capturing the essence of art’s sincerity and profundity while transforming the vitality of the street. However, the building faced controversy initially, earning the title “the most disliked building” by Ada Louise Huxtable in the New York Times. Over time, public perception softened, and the granite-faced concrete structure became recognized as an essential example of Brutalist architecture.

As the Whitney Museum’s collection expanded over the years, space became a concern, prompting the museum to move to a new location in the Meatpacking District designed by Renzo Piano in 2015. However, due to a substantial donation from Leonard A. Lauder, the Whitney was prohibited from selling the Breuer Building for an extended period. Subsequently, the Metropolitan Museum of Art occupied the Breuer building, renaming it the Met Breuer and utilizing it as a satellite exhibition space for modern and contemporary works. In 2021, the Frick Collection took over the space as a temporary home while their main facility underwent renovations.

The Breuer lobby. Photo by Max Touhey, courtesy Sotheby’s

The Frick Madison, as the former Whitney building is now called, will continue to house works from the Frick Collection until September 2024. At that point, Sotheby’s will assume custodianship of the building, relocating its headquarters from its current location on York Avenue. Sotheby’s has expressed its commitment to preserving the building’s integrity, including its striking lobby and expansive galleries while considering necessary renovations. Although the plans for the building and the architect involved are yet to be disclosed, Sotheby’s CEO, Charles F. Stewart, emphasized the historical significance of the structure and its connections to renowned art institutions.

While the announcement has generated mixed reactions within the arts community, with concerns over the building’s transformation into an auction house, there is also recognition of the need to adapt to changes in the art world. Some have called for the formal landmarking of the Breuer building to ensure the preservation of its interior spaces, as its current status within the Upper East Side Historic District only protects its exterior.

As we eagerly await further details on the future of the Whitney Breuer building under Sotheby’s ownership, it is evident that this iconic architectural gem will continue to play a significant role in shaping the cultural landscape of Manhattan.

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