Whitney Museum of American Art
On May 1, a futuristic six-storey building in New York’s Meatpacking District opened its doors to the public. With its sleek panels and glass corners, it’s not built in the traditional mould of a museum, and yet it’s the new home of the Whitney Museum for American Art. But this is only the latest example of the city’s museum rejuvenation. All over Manhattan, cultural institutions are renovating and reinventing themselves for the 21st century. Here’s our guide to experiencing the best of New York’s museum renaissance.
1. Whitney Museum for American Art
Renzo Piano’s brazen new home for the Whitney is itself a work of art. Angular and gleaming, it soars over the Meatpacking District like a wave. The new 50,000 square feet of gallery space represent the biggest leap a New York museum has taken in a generation. Mutable ceilings and galleries mean the space adapts to exhibitions, not the other way around (as was often the case at the Whitney’s previous site on the Upper East Side). Don’t miss the outdoor display areas on the upper floors, where sculptural pieces seem to change depending on varying weather and cityscapes, from the Hudson River piers to the High Line.
99 Gansevoort St., New York, 212-570-3600, whitney.org
2. Cooper-Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum
A three-year renovation has transformed the Cooper-Hewitt’s digs – Andrew Carnegie’s 1903 mansion on 5th Avenue – into an immersive, educational paean to the power of good design. Start in the Process Lab, where you get to play designer at a series of hands-on activity stations, creating new products or rethinking the construction of shopping carts, combs and other everyday objects. Move on to the Collection Browsers: a series of touch-screen tables (think giant iPads) with a “river” of digitized objects from the surrounding displays flowing down the centre. Pick one, zoom in, flip it and learn about its history and function. Finish by designing your own wallpaper in the Immersion Room and having it instantly projected onto the surrounding walls. All of your investigations are saved to the Pen – a slender black magic wand that compiles your creations and e-mails them to you.
2 E. 91st St., New York, 212-849-8400, cooperhewitt.org
3. Museum of the City of New York
The ongoing modernization of New York’s city archive has transformed this institution from a shabby Museum Mile stalwart to a captivating series of state-of-the-art galleries. The exhibitions now envelop visitors, like Activist New York, a series of meandering paths flanked with floating monitors, audio stations and outsize photo collages that capture how protest has shaped the city. Step into the adjacent space, and the mood changes completely. Here you can follow the career of advertising legend Paul Rand, surrounded by his logos and splashy posters – work that captures the Mad Men era, when avant-garde Modernism first entered the American consciousness.
1220 5th Ave., New York, 212-534-1672, mcny.org
4. The Metropolitan Museum of Art
In September, the Met opened its new David H. Koch Plaza, a bustling four-block stretch of 5th Avenue dotted with trees and fountains. The granite expanse is an old-meets-new meeting place, fringed by the Beaux Arts facade, the famous 1975 steps and a dozen modern food trucks, making it a historical spot to refuel in the sun with a classic NYC hot dog before buying your admission ticket. Once inside, head to the vast new displays in the Asia wing, which were opened this past Chinese New Year. We loved the 70-piece exhibition of Korean art that reveals the country’s cultural evolution from fourth-century ceramics to the K-pop dominance of Asia’s music charts.
1000 5th Ave., New York, 212-535-7710, metmuseum.org
5. 9/11 Memorial Museum
New York’s newest museum is also its most sobering. Designers have leveraged every conceivable media technology – TVs, apps, cameras, projections, touch screens, audio clips – to create an experience that is respectful, informative and moving. Ride elevators deep under the former site of the World Trade Center, past walls with scars and burns annotated to explain the structural traumas resulting from the attack. In the main gallery, follow a minute-by-minute breakdown of events, highlighted by footage from CNN, world headlines and iconic photos. Most chilling are audio clips from survivors played alongside maps of where they were during the chaos. Have a 9/11 story to share? A recording studio is open to the public, where people can record their own experience of the day. Curators choose among the contributions and project them in a nearby multimedia gallery.
World Trade Center site, Liberty and Greenwich streets, New York, 212-266-5211, 911memorial.org
Where to Stay
With a recent renovation, this massive Times Square property now features photographic murals of urban streetscapes and an artfully restored lobby. The Row is a culture-driven hotel – Count Basie used to play the bar – situated on multiple subway lines, making it an ideal pied-à-terre for a museum-themed trip to Manhattan.
700 8th Ave., New York, 888-352-3650. rownyc.com
Air Canada is the only airline to offer non-stop service to all three New York area airports: LaGuardia, John F. Kennedy and Newark Liberty. Take advantage of the most non-stop flights from Canada, with service from Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa, Calgary and Vancouver.