New Whitney Museum Wants to Fit Into Its Neighborhood

Grey showcases iconic artwork at Meatpacking District home

The Whitney Museum of American Art has never done much branding, allowing its longtime Marcel Breuer-designed home—a Modernist hulk at architectural odds with its posh Upper East Side surroundings—to explain its attitude about the art inside. Recently reopened in a new Renzo Piano-designed space in the Meatpacking District downtown, it's making a different architectural statement by fitting into its industrial neighborhood. That's the theme of the museum's new advertising, created by Grey New York.

The WPP agency isn't just selling the public on priceless works of art, it aims to establish the Whitney as a downtown cultural anchor, a destination to attract visitors to the area for art, shopping and dining. The campaign underscores that positioning with the tag "American art is now at home in the new Whitney in the Meatpacking District."

"This is all about neighborhood and fitting into the Meatpacking District," said Michael Collins, executive creative director at Grey.

The agency commissioned Peter Funch to photograph famous works in the Whitney collection, by artists like Edward Hopper and Cindy Sherman, on location in surrounding neighborhoods to feature in the ads. On street pole banners, ads play artists in the collection against Meatpacking institutions. "Prince Lumber, meet Grant Wood," says one, invoking a nearby lumberyard and the American Gothic painter. "Sixth Precinct, meet John Singer Sargent," says another. The visuals interplay with the museum's distinctive "W" logo, part of a design theme created for the museum in 2011 by Dutch firm Experimental Jetset.

Other paid media includes digital banners targeting tourism and trip planning; social; billboards; subway car cards and posters; MetroNorth train cards and platform posters; nationwide print; TV; and radio.

Grey also worked closely with the Whitney's Corporate Sponsorship team to sign up potential partners, adding Macy's, Bloomingdales, Bank of America, Audi, Max Mara, Tiffany, LVHM and The Standard to boost overall communications beyond paid media.

The Whitney hasn't been the only Manhattan art institution to advertise itself this spring. The Cooper-Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum recently launched a campaign from Wieden + Kennedy, which also plays off its location, in that case the Upper East Side. While the Whitney fled that staid environment, the Cooper-Hewitt seeks to make it cool.

Grey won the Whitney's business in March 2014 following a review. Grey has since done work on the museum's Biennial and a Jeff Koons exhibition, but the major push has been its move downtown. Agency ecd Collins has worked on the account since it arrived at Grey and says it's been a refreshing project.

"They're such an interesting client for an ad agency because we always want to be the coolest guy in the room," he said. "With them you can't do that."