Sotheby’s has agreed to buy the Brutalist building of the Whitney Museum of American Art on the Upper East Side in a deal that will ultimately bring the auction house closer to the heart of New York’s art market.
The company, which was bought by French billionaire Patrick Drahi for $3.7 billion in 2019, is buying the building in a deal worth about $100 million, according to two experts. The building, located at the corner of Madison Avenue and 75th Street, was designed by Marcel Breuer and completed in 1966.
Sotheby’s said it would keep its current headquarters, which are sandwiched between medical facilities on York Avenue, next to Manhattan’s East River. It plans to use the Breuer Building as an exhibition space and will hold major New York auctions at the site once renovations are complete in 2025.
The sale answers a question that has haunted the Breuer since the Whitney moved to the Meatpacking District in 2015: What exactly would the institution do with the Upper East Side building?
It was leased for a time by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, but the Met eventually vacated the space to deal with its own financial problems. The Frick then leased the space while it renovated its own home on Fifth Avenue. As the Frick’s 2024 homecoming approached, it was unclear whether the Whitney would attempt to operate a satellite site in the stark granite-and-concrete building or seek a new tenant.
Rumors started circulating this year that Sotheby’s would take over the building. Charles Stewart, the CEO, said on Thursday the building was “ideally located” and would allow the auction house to “reinvent an iconic and globally renowned architectural landmark.” Sotheby’s said it would try to preserve key elements of the building while renovating the space.
“We often refer to the provenance of artwork, and in the case of de Breuer there is no richer history than the museum that 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 it’s a stone’s throw from the Met’s flagship home that attracts millions of visitors each year.
Adam Weinberg, Whitney’s director who spearheaded the museum’s successful move to downtown, said the proceeds from the sale would bolster the institution’s endowment and allow her to focus her efforts on her Meatpacking home.
“The iconic Breuer Building will always be a cherished part of Whitney’s rich history,” he said. “We are pleased that it will continue to serve an artistic and cultural purpose through the display of works of art and artifacts.”