A Walk through The Met Breuer, and A Tiny Little Dwelling

Hello, Marcel Breuer building, it's good to see you again.

View of The Met Breuer from Madison Avenue

For longtime museumgoers in New York City, returning to the austere and boxy building by architect Marcel Breuer (1902–1981) on Madison Avenue at 75th Street feels like going back to a childhood home. As the Whitney Museum of American Art for a half century, the building exuded a 60s modern vibe, with circular lights in the lobby ceiling and off-kilter windows framing views of graceful apartment buildings nearby. The famed Whitney Biennials played out under its high ceilings and in the cool courtyard spaces below street level. It was all a cool place.

In The Met Breuer, view of "Unfinished."

For now, the Whitney is repurposed as The Met Breuer. The Metropolitan Museum of Art is leasing the space from the Whitney for eight years to house its growing collection of contemporary and modern art. The Whitney "parents" have moved on, unpacking their Hoppers in a larger new industrial-chic home in the Meatpacking District complete with outdoor decks and views of the water. It's like they moved to Miami and let their grandparents stay behind in the groovy house on Madison.

The Met Breuer. The windows and views attract great interest.

While walking through the galleries on a recent visit, the surroundings seemed both familiar and strange. For the inaugural exhibition, "Unfinished," spotlighting works that may be viewed as just that, the Met Breuer features many excellent works of modern and contemporary art as well as many pictures by famous artists in fussy gilded frames. For their first walk through the galleries, visitors will likely encounter not only Picasso, Titians, a Rembrandt, and a room full of Turners, among many "unfinished" works, but also see the building's sensational "finished" details with fresh new eyes.

Partial view of the stairwell in the Breuer building.

Marcel Breuer's stairwell is a masterpiece of balanced materials, proportion, and textures, perfectly lit. During a recent visit, I overheard a woman exuberantly share her love of the cool and calming stairs. The trapezoid windows, too, are showstoppers, and many visitors stop to look at them and take pictures of the frames and the views.

Charles Simonds' Dwellings (1981)

While the Whitney moved to the Meatpacking District, one little guy stayed behind - Charles Simonds' Dwellings (1981), a miniature clay structure that looks like a tiny adobe village (above). For those that remember, the curious object is still there in its stairwell window, left in situ as a stipulation of the Met's lease. Across the street from the museum at 940 Madison (currently an Apple store), in an upstairs window, look for another one just like it. Created by the artist as part of a series for imaginary "Little People," Dwellings is yet another museum element that evokes memories of things past.

The Met Breuer, 945 Madison Avenue, New York, NY 10021 Website

Closed Monday
Tuesday and Wednesday: 10 am–5:30 pm
Thursday and Friday: 10 am–9 pm
Saturday and Sunday: 10 am–5:30 pm
Closed Thanksgiving Day, December 25, and January 1

Images by Walking Off the Big Apple from April 2016.

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