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Upper Crust at The Whitney Biennial

Upper Crust at The Whitney Biennial

A view of Jeffrey Inaba's pop-up café as seen at the Whitney Biennial's opening party, Courtesy INABA


March 19, 2010

The café is the also the first step in the Whitney’s bid to bring its culinary amenities in line with the fine-dining offerings of New York’s other museum, which in recent years have invested generously to make their restaurants destinations in their own rights. Following MoMA’s lead with the Modern, the Guggenheim recently opened the sleek Wright restaurant, and the Museum of Arts and Design has been attracting diners to its freshly debuted Robert, which boasts Mediterranean-influenced fare and enviable views of the city skyline. To Meyer, the phenomenon is overdue. “It’s so important that museums not treat their patrons as a captive audience,” he told ARTINFO. “The overall dining experience should be so good that you’d have traveled across several zip codes to have the same meal.”

According to Whitney deputy director John Stanley, the partnership with Meyer — whose company will now provide all catering for the institution, including its planned Renzo Piano–designed branch in the Meatpacking District —is intended to place the museum on the foodie map. "The expectation on the part of the public is higher than it once was,” says Stanley. “It’s another lure, if you will.” Like the Modern, whose bar is dominated by a sweeping forest scene by Thomas Demand, and the Wright, which features a site-specific wraparound sculpture by Liam Gillick, the new Whitney restaurant will probably incorporate artwork from the museum’s collection — though Stanley says the museum will likely cycle through a rotating cast of works, as it did during Sarabeth’s tenure, rather than commission new art.


A rendering of the eatery's design Courtesy INABA

Meyer and his design partner, the Rockwell Group, have not yet arrived at a concept for the new permanent Whitney restaurant, but the restaurateur says it will no doubt be shaped by the character of the Breuer building and the Whitney’s holdings of American art. “The food and service style should be staunchly American, and the concrete architecture suggests that the restaurant not be too formal,” he says. Indeed, a loving attention to context characterizes many of Meyer’s past successes, from his humble, picnic-friendly Shake Shack in Madison Square Park to the Modern, which provides a floor-to-ceiling view of MoMA’s sculpture garden.

“We’ve got something no one else can offer, so why not make that the foundation of the design?" says Coraine of the museum’s collection. “You can’t compete with art. The real trick here is to be a perfect fit within the framework you’re given,” To play off of the museum’s challenging architecture, that will mean using a few strong colors. “I look at the Whitney like I do a Rothko," he says. "Breuer said some very powerful things with a few elements. We’re trying to be very Rothko-like and do three or four colors that are very rich and resonate with people.”

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