Sotheby’s will purchase the former site of the Whitney Museum of American Art and relocate its headquarters from the York Avenue building it has called home for more than four decades, a deal that confirms months of rumours about the auction house’s real estate maneuvers.
Sotheby’s had no comment about the price of the building, but people familiar with the deal told The New York Times and Artnet News the Whitney had sold its Marcel Breuer-designed building for a little over $100m. Sotheby’s will take possession of the Breuer building in September 2024, the auction house said, but will retain ownership of the York Avenue complex until it opens its new galleries in the Breuer building in 2025.
Breuer’s Brutalist structure has been a fixture in the New York art world since it was completed in 1966. It was home to the Whitney until the museum made its move in 2015 to its new Renzo Piano-designed home in the Meatpacking District. Subsequently it served as an outpost of the Metropolitan Museum of Art known as the Met Breuer, where the museum staged modern and contemporary art shows. Currently it is being rented to the Frick Collection while that museum’s Upper East Side mansion undergoes a renovation (the Frick’s lease ends in August 2024).
“We are honoured to acquire and write the next chapter of such an iconic and well-known New York architectural landmark,” Sotheby’s chief executive Charles F. Stewart said in a statement. “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.”
Rumours about Sotheby’s potentially moving its headquarters had been swirling for months. The Art Newspaper previously reported that the auction house was looking into selling its current New York flagship, a former cigar factory and Kodak warehouse at 1334 York Avenue on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. Sotheby’s denied the York location was up for sale. The auction house’s owner Patrick Drahi, the French-Israeli billionaire, refinanced the 500,000 sq. ft building in 2020 using a five-year $483m floating rate loan from Barclays, according to The Real Deal.
Sotheby’s purchased the York Avenue location for $11m and spent $140m on expanding and renovating the space before moving in in 1980. Sotheby’s sold the building in 2002—amid a price-fixing scandal that also implicated rival Christie’s—for $175m to real estate firm RFR Holding, which leased it back to the auction house. Sotheby’s repurchased the space in 2009 for $370m. In 2019, Sotheby’s spent a further $55m renovating its York Avenue complex to maximise gallery space. In February 2022, Sotheby’s bought a new, nine-storey office building in Long Island City, Queens, for $82m.
The deal will provide a significant boost to the Whitney’s endowment. The sale will also allow the museum to “focus its undivided attention and all of its energies on forwarding our mission” in the Meatpacking District, the Whitney’s outgoing director Adam Weinberg said in a statement.