WHY Architecture will transform the former Barneys flagship into a multifaceted fine arts hub

And WHY Not?

WHY Architecture will transform the former Barneys flagship into a multifaceted fine arts hub

Art House at 660 Madison Avenue, Manhattan. (Courtesy Art House)

The former Manhattan flagship of defunct upscale department store Barneys New York at 660 Madison Avenue will be converted into Art House, a first-of-its-kind fine arts platform described as “an extraordinary new hub for art galleries, philanthropy, and ideas” that will “support the revitalization of the city’s creative economy.” Kulapat Yantrasast’s WHY Architecture is heading the redesign of the space with Brian Butterfield serving as the design leader.

Art House will debut on November 4 with Art House New York Fall, a flagship event that will see over 60 exhibitors populating dedicated spaces spread across five floors of the former luxury fashion emporium, including its famed windows facing 60th and 61st Streets. In addition to dedicated exhibition stands for a host of international galleries, the reimagined department store will include flexible event venues to host seasonal fairs and cultural programming throughout the year as well as a champagne lounge, offices, salon-style viewing rooms, and a ninth-floor VIP member’s club in what was once Freds at Barneys, the retailer’s chopped salad-slinging in-house cafe and place-to-be-seen. In addition to the physical viewing rooms at the hybrid exhibition space on Madison Avenue, Art House will also launch a virtual viewing platform to further expand its reach to the public.

Designed by Peter Marino and Kohn Pedersen Fox, the shuttered Barneys flagship at 660 Madison Avenue is relatively new when considering the long and storied, history of the New York shopping institution, which filed for bankruptcy in 2019 and closed all locations the following year in what The Cut referred to as a “grim, drawn-out spectacle.” Spanning over 250,000 square feet, the opulent flagship store opened in 1993 within the Getty Oil Building, a 22-story midcentury Upper East Side office tower designed by Emery Roth & Sons, after the retailer decamped from its longtime Chelsea flagship location on Seventh Avenue. The flagship switch came exactly 70 years after the department store was first established by Barney Pressman as a discounted clothing outlet for men.

As reported by Curbed, Spirit Halloween, the seasonal purveyor of rubber masks and sexy nurse get-ups, will take up residence in the former downtown Manhattan Barneys location on 7th Avenue through the end of October. (Somewhat confusingly, the original flagship Barneys at 115 7th Avenue is located directly adjacent to the Barneys-turned-Spirit Halloween at 101 Seventh Avenue, which opened in 2016 after Loehmann’s, another bankruptcy-riddled New York retail stalwart located in the building, departed.)

Back uptown on Madison Avenue at the old (newer) Barneys flagship, Art House was conceived for the international art community by Michael Plummer and Jeff Rabin, both cofounders of art management and investment firm Artvest Partners, and Geoff Fox, principal of Touchstone Event Management, in response to the “changing global dynamics, seismic dislocations in how art is created, shared, collected, and the implications of generational shifts in taste and behavior.” Previously, Artvest and Touchstone partnered to create the Big Apple edition of the European Fine Art Fair, TEFAF New York, which debuted in 2016 at the Park Avenue Armory.

“Art dealers and galleries need exhibition platforms that are more sustainable and flexible than the traditional modes of art fairs and brick-and-mortar gallery spaces,” said Plummer in a statement.

Authentic Brands Group (ABG), which acquired Barneys’ intellectual property in November 2019 for $271.4 million, is actively involved in the transformation of the Barneys flagship and has partnered with Art House to “achieve their goal of bringing fine art, cultural installations and entertainment to the beloved space, while fostering creativity and community in New York City,” according to a press release. As noted in the release, the collaboration between Art House and ABG was made possible by Jill Dienst of downtown gallery Dienst + Dotter Antikviteter, “who shared their vision and facilitated this connection to make Art House at 660 Madison a reality.”

“We are thrilled to be partnering with ABG on this venture,” added Rabin. “After a tumultuous year and in the wake of the global pandemic, Art House aims to provide galleries with turnkey solutions to support their recovery and build back a stronger, more vibrant art community in New York.”

Leading the programming line-up for the inaugural season of Art House is Women Who Dared, an exhibition of 50 never-before-seen women-created artworks from the collection of Sandi and Bill Nicholson. The exhibition’s opening event will benefit Nurse Heroes, a nonprofit initiative that provides scholarship funding to prospective nurses as a means of combatting the global nurse shortage. The full roster of additional Art House programming along with the list of member galleries will be released later this fall.

As for Barneys, it’s not entirely dead. Earlier this year, ABG revived the fabled retailer as a store-within-a-store concept at the New York flagship location of former rival, Saks Fifth Avenue, as well as at a standalone Barneys at Saks location in Greenwich, Connecticut.