945 Madison Avenue, commonly called the Breuer Building, may not be the tallest in Manhattan, but it’s certainly one of the most distinct. Built between 1964 and 1966 based on brutalist designs by Marcel Breuer, the Breuer Building was built to be the home of the Whitney Museum of American Art. In 2014, when the Whitney moved to its now-current location on Gansevoort Street in Manhattan’s Meatpacking District, the Whitney maintained ownership of the building but leased it out to other museums. For example, the Metropolitan Museum of Art leased the Breuer Building between 2016 and 2020, housing the Met’s collection of contemporary art. Starting in 2021, the Frick Museum started its own three-year lease of the building to house its collection while the Frick Mansion, five blocks south, undergoes a $160 million renovation and expansion. But now, the Breuer Building has changed ownership for the first time since its construction. Last week, Sotheby’s purchased the building from the Whitney for $100 million with plans to move their headquarters there.
Sotheby’s did not need extra space, as their current flagship location on York Avenue comprises ten stories. But, according to Sotheby’s CEO Charles Stewart, buying the Breuer Building was “a once in a lifetime opportunity that we couldn’t pass up.” Once the Frick completes its renovations and moves out of the Breuer, Sotheby’s will return to Madison Avenue for the first time in thirty-six years. Before moving into its York Avenue location, Sotheby’s was previously located at 980 Madison Avenue, barely more than a block from the Breuer Building. The move to the Breuer will place Sotheby’s in a more central location since the current York Avenue headquarters may seem a little out-of-the-way for some visitors. This will bring Sotheby’s closer to the other major Manhattan museums and galleries, as well as allow more visitors to view the works featured in the upcoming sales free of charge.
Sotheby’s plans to hire architects to redesign the Breuer Building’s interior while maintaining its overall look and structural integrity. Adam Weinberg, director of the Whitney, described the sale as “bittersweet”, but it had to be done since it made little sense to retain ownership of the building. “For us it became clear it did not really make sense to have a divided Whitney”. While the Whitney is centralizing, the Breuer purchase is just the latest move in Sotheby’s recent expansion. On top of the Breuer Building, the auction house purchased a 240,000-square-foot facility in Long Island City, Queens, for art storage last year. Next year, Sotheby’s is also expected to complete the expansions of their Hong Kong and Paris locations.