Sotheby’s has agreed to buy the Brutalist building owned by the Whitney Museum of American Art on the Upper East Side, in a deal that will finally move the auction house closer to the heart of the New York art market.
The company, which was purchased by French billionaire Patrick Drahi in 2019 for $3.7bn, is acquiring the building in a deal worth roughly $100mn, according to two people with knowledge of the matter. Located at the corner of Madison Avenue and 75th Street, it was designed by Marcel Breuer and completed in 1966.
Sotheby’s said it would keep its current headquarters, wedged between medical facilities on York Avenue and alongside Manhattan’s East River. It plans to use the Breuer building as an exhibition space and will hold significant auctions there once it completes renovations in 2025.
The sale answers a question that has dogged the Breuer since the Whitney moved out to the Meatpacking District near Manhattan’s West Village in 2015: what exactly would the institution do with the Upper East Side building?
For a time it was leased by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, but the Met ultimately vacated the space as it worked to address its own financial troubles. The Frick then leased the space as it renovated its own home on Fifth Avenue. As the Frick’s 2024 homecoming neared it was unclear whether the Whitney would try to operate a satellite location at the stark granite and concrete building or find a new tenant.
Rumours began to swirl this year that Sotheby’s would step in. Charles Stewart, chief executive, said on Thursday the building was “ideally situated” and would allow the auction house to “reimagine an iconic and globally renowned architectural landmark”. Sotheby’s said it would try to maintain important elements of the building as it renovates the space.
“We often refer to the provenance of artwork, and in the case of the Breuer, there is no history richer than the museum which has housed the Whitney, Metropolitan and Frick collections,” he added.
A number of high-profile galleries have blossomed in the area, including the Gagosian and Mnuchin, and the Breuer is blocks from the Met’s flagship home that counts millions of visitors a year.
Adam Weinberg, the Whitney director who led the museum’s successful move downtown, said proceeds of the sale would strengthen the institution’s endowment and allow it to focus its efforts on its Meatpacking home.
“The Breuer building will always be a beloved part of the Whitney’s rich history,” he said. “We are pleased that it will continue to serve an artistic and cultural purpose through the display of artworks and artefacts.”