How to visit Whitney, the High Line and Chelea's art galleries

A complete itinerary for tourists to see the downtown art scene

A view of the Whitney Museum at 99 Gansevoort Street
The Whitney Museum of American Art. The Whitney Museum of American Art

The Whitney Museum of American Art opened its new building at the intersection of three of New York's most glamorous neighborhoods. But now that the The Met Breuer has opened, visitors might be a little confused if they hear people referring to the "old Whitney."

Here's a quick summary of the Whitney's buildings, past and present.

  • The Whitney Museum of American Art was founded by Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney to support the work of living American artists. The early 20th century was a very difficult for artists to show and sell their work.
  • Mrs. Whitney established the Whitney Studio in Greenwich Village in 1914 for artists who had been excluded from the traditional academies. In 1929 she offered her personal collection of 500 works to the Metropolitan Museum of Art who refused it. She reacted by starting her own museum which opened in 1931 on West 8th Street in bohemian Greenwich Village. 
  • The Whitney moved to a larger site on West 54th Street in 1954. Then it moved again when it acquired the Marcel Breuer-designed building on Madison Avenue at 75th Street, which opened in 1966. The ultra modern, cantilevered building was called "the most disliked building in New York" by Ada Louise Huxtable, the then architecture critic for the New York Times. She famously described it as "an inverted Babylonian ziggurat."
  • In 2015, the Whitney moved to their current home designed by Renzo Piano in the Meatpacking District. The building was designed to better respond and display contemporary art and includes spaces for performance. There's now 50,000 square feet of indoor galleries and 13,000 square feet of outdoor exhibition space and terraces. An 18,000 foot gallery was created just just for special exhibitions. The Whitney boasts that it is the largest column-free museum in New York City.
  • In 2016, The Metropolitan Museum of Art took over a 8-year lease on the Whitney's Upper East Side home and branded it The Met Breuer. The building will be used for modern and contemporary arts programming and special exhibitions.

Now, that that's clear, let's discuss your visit to the Whitney.

  • It's best to get to the Whitney when it opens at 10:30am. Chelsea runs a close second to Times Square in regard to popularity among tourists. (If you're looking for a quiet, un-crowded museum experience, go see the Goya paintings at the Hispanic Society of America instead.)
  • If you want to skip the line, purchase tickets in advance or become a member. There's no fee for online ticket purchases. Unlike The Met, the ticket price is required, not suggested or recommended.

What should you expect to see on exhibition at the Whitney?

  • The collection holds over 22,000 works created by more than 3,000 artists in the United States during the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. The core of the collection are the 600 works that belonged to Mrs. Whitney.
  • Among the most famous artists on display in the Whitney's galleries are Peggy Bacon, George Bellows, Alexander Calder, Stuart Davis, Charles Demuth, Mabel Dwight, Edward Hopper, Jasper Johns, Yasuo Kuniyoshi, Brice Marden, Reginald Marsh, Georgia O'Keefe, Claes Oldenburg, Ed Rusha, John Sloan and Cindy Sherman.
  • The Whitney is especially famous for it's Biennial which seeks to exhibit the best contemporary artists working at that moment.

After a long morning of roaming the collection and special exhibitions, you'll definitely be ready for great lunch.

  • Inside the Whitney you'll find the restaurant Untitled by chef Michael Anthony of Gramercy Tavern fame. Part of Danny Meyer's Union Square Hospitality Group, this is a high-end dining experience with impeccable service and sophisticated food. (That's also to say, it's not terribly child-friendly unless this is your kid.)
  • On the 8th floor you'll find the Studio Cafe which has lighter (slightly less expensive) fare prepared by the Untitled kitchen like toast, soup and salads.
  • Neighbor's Night at Untitled's bar features drinks and seasonal snacks from New York state farms aand producers. It happens every Sunday–Tuesday, 5:30 until closing.

     

    • Outside the museum you'll find a huge selection of restaurants. To pay homage to the neighborhood's roots visit the Old Homestead Steakhouse. They have very affordable lunch specials and great burgers for the kiddies.
    • For casual Italian fare and the best roast chicken of your life, visit Barbuto. The atmosphere is loud and boisterous.
    • The best place of all to have lunch or dinner near the Whitney is Chelsea Market. Housed inside of an old Nabisco cookie factory, this is also home to the offices of MLB and the studios of Food Network. There you'll find small food shops and stalls that sell sandwiches, crepes, Thai food, farm-to-table cuisine, tacos and truly excellent Italian gelato. If you're a coffee person, don't miss the Chelsea Market outpost of Ninth Street Espresso.

      But wait a sec ... what neighborhood is this? Chelsea? Meatpacking

      • The Whitney sits right at the center of three neighborhoods. Gansevoort Street used to be the center of the Meatpacking district. Up until the 1990s, this area really was full of industrial sized butchering plants that supplied meat all across the New York area. At night, it smelled terrible, but rents were cheap and space was plentiful. Fans of "Sex and the City" will remember Samantha moving into the Meatpacking district and chasing away prostitutes that hung around underneath her window.
      • Chelsea is technically the neighborhood north of the Whitney. It was once a residential neighborhood with beautiful townhouses and brownstones. The neighborhood became very rundown in the 1960s and 70s, but started to surge again when it became the heart of New York's LGBT community in the 1980s. Today it is one of the city's nicest and most expensive places to live.
      • The museum is also right on the corner of Greenwich Village. A Bohemian neighborhood since the 1940s, "the Village" was always home to artists and musicians. Today the streets retain their cozy appearance thanks to historic preservation movements, though only multi-millionaires can afford to live there now. Bleecker Street is a downtown "5th Avenue" lined with designer boutiques.

      Now that your hunger has been satiated and you know where you are, it's time for a walk on the High Line!

      • The High Line is a park that was built on top of an abandoned railroad line. This used to be a gritty, rundown part of town surrounded by meatpacking plants, printing houses, auto body shops. In the late 80s and early 90s, art galleries began to move into less expensive industrial spaces in far west Chelsea and attracted visitors. The completion of the Highline as a park made this area an official tourist destination.
      •  It runs from Gansevoort Street to 34th Street. It's open seven days of week from from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. in the winter, 10 p.m. in the spring and fall, and 11 p.m. in the summer, except for the Interim Walkway west of 11th Avenue, which is open until dusk.
      • There are eleven entrances, though only five of them are accessible to people with disabilities. The wheelchair-accessible entrances, each with stairs and an elevator, are at Gansevoort, 14th, 16th, 23rd, and 30th Streets.
      • The High Line plantings were inspired by the wild grass and flowers that grew on the abandoned tracks. The trail is a mix of concrete, pebbles and railroad gravel to remind visitors of the track's history. Visitors will find benches to sit and enjoy the river views from this urban meadow.
      • Art installations can also be found on the High Line and change frequently.
      • Depending on your interests, you may also enjoy a tour of the High Line. Tours are seasonal but also include workshops for kids. Be sure to check out the Friends of the High Line website for the most current schedule of tours and activities.

      Ready for some more art? Chelsea is the place in New York to see the cutting-edge of contemporary art. Unlike a museum where the work has been heavily curated by art historians, galleries are a place to see art on which the jury is still out. In other words, you get to be the judge. And if your pockets are deep enough, the work is all for sale. Walk far west (toward the Hudson river) and peek inside converted industrial spaces to find the galleries. Among the best are:

      • Matthew Marks Gallery was among the first to move to Chelsea when the neighborhood was still mostly industrial, this is among the most famous art galleries and where the biggest names in contemporary art are shown.
      • Sean Kelly Gallery is the place for mid-career and established artists, especially performance artists and conceptual art pieces.
      • Pace Gallery is an art-world institution. This is where Jay-Z did his love-it-or-hate-it performance piece "Picasso Baby."

      By this point, you're probably completely exhausted. But just in case you've got the energy for a night out on the town, you're in the right place, especially if you want to scratch that "Sex and the City" inspired itch you've had since 2004.

      • The Standard Hotel is a huge hot spot. On a summer's night, head to the Standard Biergarten to see, be seen, and play ping pong in a pair of stilettos. 
      • There's also a very glamorous rooftop bar at the Gansevoort Hotel
      • You can also make a reservation to return to the Whitney for one of their evening performances or screenings. Always check their website or speak to the information desk attendants to find out what's going on and reserve a spot.

      Now you know everything you need to enjoy a day at the Whitney with lunch, the High Line and a stroll through Chelsea's contemporary art galleries. Try to do this tour in May or October for the most ideal weather.