VIPs, Renaissance art and contemporary experiments mix at the new Met Breuer

The Met Breuer

Say hello to the Met Breuer – NYC’s newest institutional art museum. The Met Breuer is the contemporary and modern art outpost of the Metropolitan Museum, housed in the former Whitney building. It officially opened to the public last Friday to much fanfare. And if you’ve walked along Madison Avenue in the Upper East Side over the past month, you’ve probably noticed the bright red Met Breuer signs that line the boulevard along with fliers posted in many of the area’s tony retail shop windows, eagerly announcing their new neighbor.

The opening party was reportedly attended by VIPs like Thomas Campbell, Christine and Stephen Schwarzman, Jeff Koons, Aby Rosen, Dr. Samantha Boardman, Judy and Leonard Lauder, Emily Rafferty, and Bill Cunningham. But prior to the official opening, LLNYC went behind the scenes to find out what makes the Met Breuer so special.

The museum’s premiere show “Unfinished: Thoughts Left Visible” is comprised of a collection of incomplete works by masters such as da Vinci and Warhol and seeks to explore the question of when a work of art is finished.

 Leonardo da Vinci's "Head and Shoulders of a Woman"
Leonardo da Vinci’s “Head and Shoulders of a Woman”

Also on view is a monographic exhibition of 130 paintings from Indian modernist Nasreen Mohamedi, continuous in-gallery performances by resident artist Vijay Iyer, and a newly commissioned sonic experience by Pulitzer Prize-winning composer John Luther Adams.

But beyond the art, the monolithic, Brutalist museum itself has also changed. While the structure remains un-altered, internally the restoration team “scraped out chewing gum and cleared residual wires,” Thomas Campbell, director and CEO of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, said. “The revitalization of this architectural icon was a ‘work of art in conservation.'”

In a nod to a younger and more tech-savvy art audience, the lobby was given an oversized digital screen. The building’s staircases’ bronze and wooden handrails feature a variety of textured treatments like bush-hammered concrete. The floors are comprised of restored square blue stones, and the second level’s flooring is now walnut-colored.


But perhaps the greatest luxury the Met Breuer boasts over the old Whitney, is the institutional resources of the Met, which gives it the ability to curate and show not just 116 years of modern art, but reference art from earlier eras to provide context. The museum can now “reference beyond just the 1900s and across many geographies — to disrupt and expand histories,” Sheena Wagstaff, Leonard A. Lauder Chairman, Department of Modern and Contemporary Art at Metropolitan Museum of Art, said.

James Neel's "Hunter Black"
James Neel’s “Hunter Black”

“The Met Breuer is an extension of our modern and contemporary program at our Fifth Avenue location, which is unique for its ability to place art from the 20th and 21st centuries in context of the Museum’s unparalleled collection spanning over 5,000 years of history,” Wagstaff told LLNYC.

For instance, the opening exhibit includes contemporary pieces alongside an area of more stately unfinished works.

Probably one of the most stunning pieces is a painting by the late Italian Renaissance artist Titian. “The Flaying of Marsyas” valued at a whopping $150 million.

The recent member event was heavily populated with art lovers eager to check out the space’s new offerings. When asked about how the Met Breuer compares to the Whitney, Millie, a long-time museum member of both organizations and resident of the Upper East Side, explained that she felt the new facility seemed far more comprehensive than the old Whitney.

 Titian's "The Flaying of Marsyas"
Titian’s “The Flaying of Marsyas”

“I am excited by the direction the Whitney has taken downtown because I love how big the space is – its light, great views and outdoor space. But I do feel the uptown mid-century building that once housed the Whitney’s collection is suited for the Met’s blend of antique and contemporary art in this debut show.”

Her daughter, Gwen, a music student, was particularly taken with the sound exhibit.

“As a music student I’m excited the debut show has a musical element.” she said, “I heard there is another musical element “KLANG” coming to the space soon.”

In addition to the actual building update, Wagstaff explains the Met’s plan to attract a younger crowd to the space.


“With exhibits that introduce important artists whose work is less familiar to U.S. audiences, and thematic surveys that shed new light on timeless subjects, The Met Breuer program is conceived to appeal to both the most seasoned and novice museum-goers of all ages, with opportunities for discovery and reflection, all within a beautifully restored building designed to elicit engagement with works of art.”

And fear not, those hungry for more than just culture will get to experience culinary delights this summer upon the opening of  restaurant “Estela Breuer” on the lower level of the building.

The restaurant is a collaboration between restaurateur Thomas Carter and chef Ignacio Mattos of the acclaimed lower Manhattan restaurant “Estela.” The eatery “will provide a distinctively modern culinary experience that responds to the contemporary context of The Met,” according to a recent press release. It will include a coffee bar open during museum hours.


Also debuting this summer at the museum will be “Diane Arbus: in the beginning” which will spotlight rarely seen early work of the controversial photographer.

And while some have criticized the show for being not being succinct enough, it is worth a go-see just to marvel at the restored iconic building itself.

At a recent press event, overheard in an elevator crowded with reporters, one woman exclaimed aloud that, “This elevator is bigger than my whole apartment!”