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Whitney Museum of American Art

Whitney Museum turns over its column-free fifth floor to artists

The museum’s new programme Open Plan will present large-scale installations by Michael Heizer, Andrea Fraser and others

Artists Michael Heizer, Andrea Fraser, Steve McQueen, Lucy Dodd and Cecil Taylor will each take over a floor of the Whitney Museum of American Art next year as part of a new programme called Open Plan.

For the five-part exhibition, the interior walls of the Whitney’s fifth floor will be removed to create the largest column-free museum space in New York. The Neil Bluhm Family Galleries measure more than 18,000 sq. ft and have sweeping views west over the Hudson River and east over Manhattan.

The Whitney has a history of offering full floors to artists, beginning in the 1960s and 70s when sculptors and performers including Robert Morris, Trisha Brown, and Robert Irwin were invited to experiment in the space. This new initiative taps into that vein.

“To celebrate the end of our inaugural year downtown, we wanted to reveal this space for the first time in its entirety,” says Scott Rothkopf, the museum’s deputy director for programs and its chief curator. He says the curatorial staff wanted to “give artists the opportunity to respond to the site with new projects or to display work from the collection that we couldn’t have previously shown.”

Open Plan launches on 26 February with a site-specific sound installation by Andrea Fraser, Down the River, which uses audio recordings from a correctional facility to reflect on the parallel booms in museum and prison construction in the US since the 1970s (until 13 March).

Following this, the young artist Lucy Dodd will bring her studio into the museum to create a new large-scale painting using uncommon materials such as fermented walnuts, hematite and yerba mate. Her intention is to focus on the ritual of art making, and she will invite a host of collaborators to stage performances and make music (17-20 March).

Michael Heizer (b. 1944), Actual Size: Munich Rotary, 1970. Six custom made aluminum projectors with steel stands and six black-and-white film transparencies mounted between glass. Dimensions variable. Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Gift of Virginia Dwan 96.137 Photography © Museum Associates/ LACMA, CA

After this, the space will be devoted to the veteran land artist Michael Heizer, who will show his 1970 installation Actual Size: Munich Rotary, a work in the Whitney’s collection that has never been shown in New York before. It is a full-scale documentation of the horizon as photographed from within an 18-foot hole that Heizer dug in Munich, Germany (25 March-10 April).

Then, for something completely different, the pianist Cecil Taylor will take up residence on the fifth-floor along with fellow performers and friends. Taylor, a pioneer of free jazz, will stage live performances in the space, which will also include documentation of his career (15-24 April).

Finally, Steve McQueen will present a newly expanded version of End Credits, a sound and video work that focuses on thousands of documents in an FBI file on the African-American singer, actor and political activist Paul Robeson (29 April-14 May).

Open Plan was conceived collaboratively with Donna De Salvo, the Whitney’s deputy director for international initiatives and its senior curator; Christopher Y. Lew, associate curator; Scott Rothkopf; Jay Sanders, curator of performance; and Elisabeth Sussman, curator of photography.

Rothkopf says: “The featured artists span a broad range of ages, mediums, and approaches, and we’ve asked them to respond to the space with a light touch and without interior construction in order to lend Open Plan a lively and experimental spirit.”