Sotheby’s has just unveiled an ambitious expansion and redesign of its headquarters at 1334 York Avenue at 72nd Street, timed with the auction house’s 275th anniversary. Done in collaboration with architecture firm OMA under the direction of Shohoei Shigematsu, the new galleries are a bold re-envisioning of the visitor experience. The auction house has reimagined the headquarters, a former cigar factory, as a destination for the public to view the incredible works of art going on auction. Sotheby’s has opened its first floor for public viewing for the first time, and transformed the first four floors of the building from predominantly storage and office into exhibition space. Double height floors have been carved out, original columns revealed and re-clad in new materials, and structural elements hidden from view.

Back wall showcases Meules by Claude Monet

The building at 1334 York Avenue was built originally as a cigar factory and was later used as a facility for Eastman Kodak. The idea behind the redesign was to provide a diversity of spaces to accommodate all types of works in an optimal exhibition format, from a single object to a large collection. The tallest double height gallery is 20 feet high, while the smallest gallery is 350 square feet. There are over 90,000 square feet of gallery space (about two acres), 40 public galleries, and 9 private sales galleries. Sant Ambroeus, which already runs the café on the top floor, will open a coffee bar on the ground floor, accompanying the Sotheby’s retail wine store.

At the press opening, the Sotheby’s team spoke about their original plan to move locations entirely. Allan Schwartzman, Chairman of Sotheby’s Fine Art Division, said that at the last moment, they asked the architects at OMA if they could do a quick sketch of what it would look like to stay in their headquarters on York Avenue. “The intention was to prove we had to move,” he says, but the result was that they learned that they could stay. “It was an interesting exercise to relearn what this building is,” he concluded. Shigematsu said they intended to “unlock” the size of the building, a size that does not exist readily in the city. The intention is to conceive of the auction house as beyond its primary activity, and support multi-faceted activities “diverse enough to attract any type of crowd.”  They sought to create a “variety of spaces that correspond to a diversity of activities” and create a space that until now did not “exist in existing museums or the gallery world.” The space is a reflection of Sotheby’s new ambition, and fully represents Sotheby’s business model, Shigematsu stated. 

The unveiling of the new galleries is also timed with the opening of Sotheby’s May exhibitions and auctions of Impressionist & Modern and Contemporary art, featuring such notable works as Meules, a fine example of Claude Monet’s haystacks that has only been displayed publicly three times in history, two portraits by Pablo Picasso, an enormous French history painting by William-Adolphe Bouguereau (La Jeunesse de Bacchus) and several works by Mark Rothko, amongst many more by Francis Bacon, Lee Krasner, Robert Motherwell, Jeff Koons, Gustave Caillebotte, and Paul Gauguin. For Brit-enthusiasts, there is a collection treasures from Chatsworth House, representing over 500 years of collecting by the Cavendish Family and the Dukes of Yorkshire. If you are a fan of the 2005 BBC version of Pride and Prejudice, this is the home that represented Darcy’s estate, Pemberley.

William-Adolphe Bouguereau, La Jeunesse de Bacchus

Check out more photographs from inside the redesigned Sotheby’s below. You can visit daily, from 10 AM to 5 PM, except Sundays from 1 -5 PM.

Credit: Sotheby’s

Mark Rothko’s Untitled

Picasso’s Femme au chien

Claude Monet’s Meules

Jeff Koons’Elephant (Violet)

William-Adolphe Bouguereau, La Jeunesse de Bacchus

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