Here and Gone: Signage Install Briefly Uncovers Original Whitney Museum Inscription

Art Scene

Here and Gone: Signage Install Briefly Uncovers Original Whitney Museum Inscription

While New York’s Whitney Museum of American Art hums with energy at its marvelous new space on the High Line, routine construction gave New Yorkers a visual portal back to the institution’s very first location in Greenwich Village.

First reported by the New York Times, the conclusion of a restoration project at 8 West Eighth Street, where the Whitney first opened in 1931, saw the temporary removal of a sidewalk shed that had been covering the Whitney’s original Roman-letter inscription engraved in the building’s marble façade. The shed belonged to the New York Studio School of Painting, Drawing and Sculpture (NYSS), which moved into the location in 1967. The Whitney had moved to 22 West 54th Street in 1954 – likely the last time the sign was visible.


Photo Credit: Karsten Moran for The New York Times

The NYSS sign was actually a third layer of signage upon signage; a different sign belonging to the National Recreation Association was sandwiched between the two. Each tenant had simply overlaid the previous tenant’s sign with their own.

The relic lettering is accompanied by a cast-aluminum eagle designed by painter Karl Free, a member of the original curatorial staff. It was a symbol commonly associated with the Whitney during its early years of operation, and the discovery was so special that NYSS opened its doors to history buffs and gave tours of the sculpture studio where Mrs. Whitney herself once worked.

Whitney Museum Old Entrance

Photo Credit: The Whitney Museum of American Art

The Whitney has moved three times. After its 1954 departure, it moved further uptown to Madison Avenue in 1966. The much-anticipated new Whitney opened at 99 Gansevoort Street earlier this year.

“What a timely coincidence,” Donna De Salvo, a deputy director and a senior curator at the museum, told the New York Times. “It’s a rich visual reminder of the museum’s downtown roots, to which it has now returned, and of the layers of history that make up this remarkable city.”

Nevertheless, the NYSS reinstalled their sign within a few days. Covered and preserved again, the Whitney inscription is a symbol of New York City’s endless – and often unexpected – historical sentiment.


Photo Credit: photo by @michaelferguson/Instagram