Sotheby’s has agreed to buy the Brutalist building owned by the Whitney Museum of American Art on the Upper East Side, in a deal that will finally move the auction house into the heart of the New York art market.
The company, which French billionaire Patrick Drahe bought in 2019 for $3.7 billion, is acquiring the building in a deal worth about $100 million, two people familiar with the matter said. Located at the corner of Madison Avenue and 75th Street, it was designed by Marcel Breuer and completed in 1966.
Sotheby’s said it would keep its current headquarters wedged between the medical facilities on York Street and by the East River in Manhattan. It plans to use the Breuer Building as an exhibition space and will hold major auctions there once the renovations are complete in 2025.
The sale answers a question Breuer has dogged since Whitney moved to the Meatpacking District near Manhattan’s West Village in 2015: What exactly will the establishment do with the Upper East Side building?
For a time, it was rented by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, but the Metropolitan eventually vacated the place as it worked out its own financial problems. The Frick then rented the space as she renovated her Fifth Avenue home. With Frick’s 2024 homecoming looming, it wasn’t clear if Whitney would try to run a satellite outpost in the stark granite-and-concrete building or find a new tenant.
Rumors started swirling this year that Sotheby’s would get involved. Chief Executive Charles Stewart said Thursday that the building is “ideally located” and will allow the auction house to “re-imagine a world-famous and iconic architectural landmark.”
Sotheby’s said it will try to preserve important elements of the building while it renovates the space.
He added, “We often refer to the provenance of a work of art, and in the case of Breuer, there is no history richer than a museum’s home to the Whitney, Metropolitan, and Frick collections.”
A number of notable galleries have thrived in the area, including Gagosian and Mnuchin, and Breuer is located just blocks from the Met’s main home that counts millions of visitors annually.
Adam Weinberg, the Whitney director who led the museum’s successful move downtown, said proceeds from the sale will enhance the foundation’s endowment and allow it to focus its efforts on its meatpacking home.
“The Brewer Building will always be a beloved part of Whitney’s rich history,” he said. “We are delighted that it will continue to serve an artistic and cultural purpose by displaying works of art and artifacts.”