Designed in 1966 by architect Marcel Breuer as a storage location for The Whitney Museum of American Art, 945 Madison Avenue—the boxy, brutalist structure situated nearby to Manhattan’s Museum Mile—has quite the provenance. Tenancy of the Breuer Building has changed hands a number of times in recent years, including with today’s announcement that global auction house Sotheby’s would purchase the building.
Breuer won the commission to design the building beating out more established architects of the time including Philip Johnson, Louis Kahn, and I. M. Pei. His design is often likened to an inverted ziggurat, featuring several cantilevers and a notable lack of windows. The Whitney Museum used the building in various capacities until 2014, when it relocated its gallery spaces downtown within a new, also boxy, building designed by Renzo Piano.
Upon The Whitney’s departure from the Breuer Building, The Metropolitan Museum of Art signed on to take over the lease and launched a renovation led by Beyer Blinder Belle. In its short tenure on Madison Avenue, the Met Breuer housed the museum’s contemporary art collection. It closed down in June 2020, with plans in-the-works to hand the lease over to another Upper East Side art institution, The Frick.
In 2021 The Frick occupied the building, using the exhibition space as a temporary location for its collection while its building on Fifth Avenue, between 70th and 71st, undergoes a renovation led by Selldorf Architects. The art museum will bid farewell to Breuer in 2024 when the overhaul of the its mansion is slated to complete.
With today’s announcement, the fate of the Breuer Building is sealed again. Sotheby’s plans to make the former museum and art facility its main headquarters, relocating its gallery spaces, auction room, and offices from its current location at 1334 York Avenue, which was recently revamped by OMA, with the offices renovated by Gensler.
“The iconic Breuer Building will always be a beloved part of the Whitney’s rich history,” said Whitney Director Adam Weinberg in a press release. “We are pleased that it will continue to serve an artistic and cultural purpose through the display of artworks and artifacts. Most importantly this architectural masterpiece – thanks to its status in a landmark district – will be preserved.”
When Sotheby’s occupies the building in 2025 it plans to renovate and will name an architect to “review the building with an eye to renewing and restoring its internal spaces and key elements – especially the striking lobby.” Like its York Avenue predecessor, Sotheby’s new location will also be free and publicly accessible.
Just how much the global auction house paid for the architectural marvel has not been disclosed, though The New York Times reported that two individuals involved in the deal stated a figure around $100 million.
Elsewhere around the city, Sotheby’s will open an operations facility inside a converted warehouse in Long Island City. Jean-Luc Berrebi, Sotheby’s chief financial officer, told The Real Deal when the deal closed, that the firm planned to use the building for processing and warehousing operations.