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New Whitney Likened to 'Prodigiously Misassembled' Ikea Item

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From the man who once compared Renzo Piano's Whitney to a bus—New York Magazine's architecture critic, Justin Davidson—comes a new look at the hulking $422 million structure along the High Line that opens to the public on May 1. Davidson neither loves or hates the building, but rather acknowledges its form as a commitment to its function, something that has been vastly overlooked at other prodigious American art museums—ahem, MoMA. Davidson still calls the building on its B.S., and suspects in a few years it will be aged more than that, recalling the "Apple moment, when high-tech containers, from phones to cruise ships, had to have satiny metal casings and dark, silky screens." But he also believes that it is laid out so thoughtfully, and interacts so genuinely with its surroundings in the way light plays though the galleries that it cannot just be a failure. Now, nine lines from Davidson's confounded review.

1) "There's nothing seamless about this awkward kit of protruding parts and tilting surfaces, though: The thing might have arrived in an Ikea flat pack and then been prodigiously misassembled."

2) "[Artist Charles] Demuth turned a grain elevator into a cathedral, scored by angling rays of sunshine, and Piano, too, has built an apparatus that manages light and aspires to monumentality. Demuth aestheticized the industrial machine; Piano has built a machine for the aesthetic-industrial complex."

3) "There's a reason that museums all over the country keep turning to Piano: He knows what he's doing."

4) "In the galleries, light doesn't have just a single source or flavor; it streams in through windows, ricochets off neighboring buildings, sneaks around temporary walls, and gets focused by ceiling-mounted spots ... American art has never looked so good..."

5) "Yet even as he lavishes attention on the visitor's experience, Piano seems to be wondering whether intense communion with art is still enough to keep the public engaged."

6) "Majestic windows and broad terraces beckon visitors to step outside for a view of the museum's native turf. Flâneurs promenade on the High Line below, the Cubist cityscape poses in the foreground, and in the distance the World Trade Center gleams. 'When you have a museum experience, you need to intersperse it with rest,' [Piano] told me, and indeed he's composed a symphony full of rests. The new Whitney is a wonderful place for people who get easily bored by art."

7) "That pair of dueling thought bubbles—come see how much art we have; you hardly need to look at it—is one of several loudly mixed messages that make the museum so disappointing." (Ed. note: Ouch.)

8) "Piano's new Whitney is so sensitive to its location and earnest mission, so generous in its supply of views, light, and convenience, that it mistakes virtue for personality."

9) "For all the building's flexibility, [Piano] has baked in a curatorial strategy that De Salvo and her successors can modify only by deploying a yellowing set of shades. Piano has provided both distraction and its antidote—a museum in conflict with itself."
· The New Building Is Open: It's Filled With Light and Contradictions [NYM via Vulture]
· All Whitney Museum coverage [Curbed]