Sotheby’s to Preserve Charles Simonds’s Dwellings Amid Breuer Building Takeover

Storied auction house Sotheby’s, which earlier this year was revealed as the buyer of the iconic Marcel Breuer–designed building that for decades housed New York’s Whitney Museum of American Art, has announced that it will preserve a beloved site-specific work occupying the structure and an edifice across the street. The Art Newspaper reports that Charles Simonds’s Dwellings, 1981, a trio of miniature landscapes inhabited by tiny denizens and placed variously in a stairwell of the building and atop a windowsill and a chimney at 940 Madison Avenue, across the street, will remain in place after Sotheby’s moves in.

Pledging that the auction house “will proudly act as stewards” of Simonds’s work, a Sotheby’s spokesperson said that visitors would still be able to easily view at least one of the three sculptures, noting, “The element of the work that is tucked into the Breuer’s stairwell landing is the most accessible component of the three, and it will remain so since Sotheby’s galleries are open to the public for free seven days a week.”

The Whitney moved into the five-story Brutalist structure at 945 Madison Avenue immediately following its 1966 completion. In 1977, Simonds—who for nearly a decade had been placing the humble habitats, typically crafted from clay, sand, and wood, in the nooks and crannies of SoHo and the Lower East Side, where they might last only a matter of hours before being washed away by rain or disassembled by fascinated children—contributed a Dwelling to the Whitney Biennial. Shortly thereafter, the museum commissioned the extant ensemble from him. The sculptures have thus far survived the building’s occupation by first the Met Breuer and then the Frick, which took up residency in succession following the Whitney’s 2015 move to the Meatpacking District.

“It does appear that I have created a sentimental place for New Yorkers and beyond,” Simonds said, on learning that the work would be preserved. “How many times have I heard the line, ‘When I was young, my mother took me to the Whitney and the only work I liked was your Dwelling.’”

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