Last night, the Whitney Museum’s annual Gala & Studio Party took the form of a going away bash, marking the museum’s final event in the historic Breuer Building before moving to its new downtown home and reopening on May Day 2015.
Moving out was the night’s theme—wooden crates abounded throughout the artless fourth floor, and large projections simulated the view from the Whitney’s new Meatpacking district location. A jazzy standards band of sorts (they also played “Light My Fire” by The Doors) performed on top of the crates. The singer looked like he might have done some modeling for Holister, or maybe Abercrombie and Fitch. His jazz hands were half-convincing.
Cindy Sherman, standing near the performers and adjacent to the eternal don of the art world, Chuck Close, shared some memories. “Well, my retrospective in ’87 was exciting for me,” she said, referring to her solo show at the museum. “It’s sad to give this up, though, but I’m sure I’ll be back here. It just won’t be the same Whitney.”
Well, no it won’t. The Metropolitan Museum of Art will take over the Breuer Building and begin mounting shows there next year. The new Whitney is a sleek, glass-paneled, modernly lop-sided building with lots more exhibition space and neighbors like the Standard Hotel and the Apple Store.
“If we had to move, it is a great space, because we have so much [room] and it’s such a vibrant neighborhood already,” said artist and Whitney trustee Fred Wilson. “And I live on 13th Street, so that didn’t hurt.” He backtracked: “Maybe I shouldn’t tell people what street I live on! But that’s a long street.”
It’s certainly closer to where the Whitney had got started. It opened in the Greenwich Village residence of Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney on West 8th Street in 1931. The move away from that building, first to 54th street in 1954 and then to the Breuer Building in 1966, where the institution began organizing the Whitney Biennial in 1973, was nearly lost on the crowd last night. Thankfully, Jonas Mekas, reaffirming his status as a true avant-garde OG, was there to correct the record.
“My best memory is really of the Whitney when the Whitney was on 8th Street, and that’s what nobody remembers in this room,” he told us. “I usually came to see all the biennials, and I always found them a little bit disappointing. I like color and artist’s today don’t like paint anymore.”
Further eschewing paint, during the cocktail hour, artists Will Pappenheimer and Zachary Brady presented Skywrite AR, a piece that gave people the ability to virtually skywrite messages above the Whitney via the power of an iPad and augmented reality. Brady reverently spoke of Skywrite AR as a democratization of an “idea that is usually reserved for the elite,” which was ironic given the night’s actual reality, one that included caviar, scotch, and black ties.
(The artist brothers Noah and Raphael Lyon were in attendance with their father Danny, who in fact had a minor issue with the dress code: “We thought it was ‘festive attire,'” he said, “which explains why Noah’s shirt isn’t tucked in.”)
Elsewhere, a partygoer was disappointed to learn that an Ipad-anchored photo station was not, in fact, an art instillation. “I thought it was art,” she was overheard saying, “but it turns out it’s just social media.” Yes, this was something of an overly symbolic gala, but sometimes a photo booth is just a photo booth.