'Dwellings' at the Breuer Building – New York, New York - Atlas Obscura

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'Dwellings' at the Breuer Building

This miniature village stays behind in the Breuer Building, even as the museums around it come and go. 


The Breuer Building has been home to three different museums since its construction in 1966: first the Whitney, which still owns the property, then it was a branch of the Met for four years, and now it’s the temporary home of the Frick Collection while that organization’s own building undergoes renovations. But even as exhibits have rotated in and out, ranging from European masters to American sculpture to ephemeral performance art, one piece of sculpture has remained with the building, hidden away in the main stairwell.

On the landing between the first and second floors, just above the window that looks out onto Madison Avenue, there is a small sculpture of a village by Charles Simonds entitled “Dwellings.” It’s built with a mix of clay, sand, stones, and wood and resembles a settlement on a hilltop. It’s part of a series that Simonds started in 1970, creating similar sculptures in cities around the world. He carved tiny settlements into exposed brick and other crevasses throughout neighborhoods in more than 30 cities, including Paris, Shanghai, Berlin, London, and Dublin.

This particular dwelling sculpture was commissioned by the Whitney Museum in 1981. It is actually a three-part installation; looking out the window you can see a similar clay village on a second-story windowsill across the street at 940 Madison Avenue, and there is also another on the roof of that building. The setup was reinstalled in 2015, the year after the Whitney moved out but before the Met moved in. Dwellings is still listed as part of the Whitney’s collection, but listed as “not on view” since it has technically lived in another museum for the past six years.

Know Before You Go

The sculptures at 945 Madison Avenue are visible from the street and require no special admission, but to view the one inside 940 Madison Avenue (the Breuer Building) you must purchase admission to the museum. The sculpture is positioned on the landing between the first and second floors, on top of the window. It can be viewed from above by going up one level.

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June 2, 2021

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