Sotheby’s New York renovation by OMA unveiled
If you walk through a set of revolving doors on the corner of York Avenue and 72nd Street in Manhattan, and look across a recently-renovated white-walled ground-floor gallery space, you’ll come face-to-canvas with William-Adolphe Bouguereau’s painting La Jeunesse de Bacchus. It is, according to Sotheby’s, ‘an icon of French academic painting and the largest work of the artist’s career’, and is estimated to go to auction for between $25 and $35 million.
It’s just one of a series of artworks currently displayed and directly accessible to the public for the first time at the recently-renovated Sotheby’s auction house. Sensitively reworked by OMA’s New York team, led by Shohei Shigematsu, the emphasis, says Shigematsu, was on a ‘diversity’ of room types. Rather than go for the blank long expanse of wall favoured by museums, Shigematsu and team went for an astonishing number of smaller rooms of various types, layouts, and scales – including white cube, enfilade, corridor, cascade, octagonal, and L-shaped, as well as a few double-height ones.
That diversity leads to a Wrightian sense of constant expansion and compression, tension and relief, as the visitor moves from Rothko to Picasso, to Monet, to Bacon, to Krasner. Scattered throughout are massive concrete columns that, rather than detract, only add to the sense of history so embedded in this thoroughly modern renovation.
‘In conceiving the ideal dimensions of the rooms, it didn’t really match the column grid that the building originally had,’ Shigematsu says. At first, then, OMA tried to hide the columns ‘because columns in galleries are known to be an evil thing to do.’ Eventually, history won, and the team decided to keep the columns and see them as characters – so ‘you can see the patchwork of the history and the layers of activity that have happened in this building.’ §