A Whitney made of two buildings, fluidly showing some of this here and some of that there, would be a conventional museum, cobbled together by sharing and compromises, with an inevitably divided focus and a largely mainstream perspective. The powers-that-be should at least consider a bolder, more radical effort. Instead of continuing to fit pieces haphazardly together, they could start from the beginning, rethinking from the ground up how a museum could best represent the 21st century. Few if any museums today seem prepared for what’s coming. To take just one example: The way we now present video and installation work is rarely satisfying. The rooms are typically noisy, shabby, and disorganized; something is usually out-of-whack about the scale. Installations often take up a lot of space, but shouldn’t we be able to see a piece in the permanent collection by Bill Viola or William Kentridge when we want? Museums and their architects need to make this possible. They should design new spaces for new kinds of art.
A museum that hopes to address such concerns, that hopes to be original in both outlook and design, should not have two heads. You would want it liberated—as the early MoMA was—from traditional responsibilities. A ruthlessly forward-looking place. Of course, you would also like its leader to have the vision and discrimination of MoMA’s founder, Alfred H. Barr Jr. The danger represented by a spanking new museum in Chelsea is that it will turn into nothing more than a big brassy horn celebrating fashion and moneyed taste. The promise is that it will restore a sense of the future to New York. The Whitney should take a flier.