Rachel Poser at Harper's Magazine:
The Breuer building, a mean pile of granite and concrete that squats darkly on a corner of Manhattan’s Upper East Side, was built as a kind of monument to the Metropolitan Museum’s long-standing distaste for contemporary art. In 1929, the Met refused Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney’s gift of more than five hundred contemporary American works by the likes of Edward Hopper, George Bellows, and John Sloan. The Met’s refusal precipitated the founding of the Whitney Museum, which outgrew its row houses on West 8th Street and some time later commissioned Marcel Breuer, a Hungarian architect who had been part of the Bauhaus, to design what is commonly described as an inverted Babylonian ziggurat as its new home. Built in a neighborhood otherwise known for its Beaux-Arts and Renaissance Revival mansions, the Breuer opened in 1966 to near-universal derision. (Ada Louise Huxtable, though herself a fan, said at the time that the Breuer was “the most disliked building in New York.”)
Housed just half a mile from the Met on 5th Avenue, the Whitney served for a generation as a kind of poor relation to America’s largest and most visited museum, which for most of its history has preferred European traditionalism to the gut punches of the avant-garde. Early in their careers, Jackson Pollock and Louise Bourgeois joined sixteen other American artists, who would become known as the Irascibles, to write an open letter, calling the Met “notoriously hostile to advanced art.” The museum’s stance was unchanged as late as 1999, when its director sided with Mayor Rudy Giuliani, an irascible of another sort, in his condemnation of a contemporary show at the Brooklyn Museum that featured supercharged works such as Mark Quinn’s Self, a frozen cast of the artist’s head made from ten pints of his own blood.