Whitney Museum (A)

By Robert Augsburger, Gordon Bloom
1990 | Case No. SI100A
In the spring of 1985, Thomas Armstrong, Director of the Whitney Museum in New York and the Whitney Board announced a plan to expand the museum’s existing facility. Armstrong considered the expansion vital to the mission of the museum - “to collect, preserve, and exhibit outstanding 20th-century American art, particularly the work of living artists, and to educate the public about artistic achievements of American culture.” In his 12 years at the helm, Armstrong had aggressively developed the museum through a targeted acquisition spree, opening branch museums, and corporate sponsorship. The museum landscape was changing, turning more competitive. Large blockbuster exhibits were becoming an important source of revenue and the prices for acquiring first rate pieces were skyrocketing. Although Armstrong saw the expansion of the Whitney Museum as the climactic and final stage in his stewardship of the world’s finest collection of 20th-century American art, the proposed extension met with public outcry. Critics questioned the scope and value of the expansion and were offended by the arguably irreverent design by Post-Modernist architect Michael Graves. Refuting these attacks, Armstrong consented to modify the design and addressed the concerns of various special interest groups. However, Armstrong thought about the other steps he could take to realize the expansion and what general strategy the Whitney Museum should adopt in the changing museum environment.
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