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Whitney Museum of American Art

Whitney Museum blamed for the demise of a beloved book store

Books versus Basquiats?

The Whitney Museum of American Art is under attack again. The museum stands accused of putting a venerated bookstore out of business. Since 1977, Books & Co. has done business on the same Madison Avenue block as the museum. Operated by Jeannette Watson, the store has hosted readings and consistently stocked scholarly and literary books, making it a favourite among writers and the wealthy literati of this Upper East Side neighbourhood.

When the Whitney announced its expansion through the low-lying adjoining brownstones of its block in 1995, the museum and the bookstore owner discussed plans for cooperation, which never resulted in an agreement. At the Whitney’s request for a rent increase last year, Books and Co. decided to close the store. The store’s customers protested and the New York Post called the prospect of the bookstore’s closing “a cultural tragedy comparable to the Visigoths sacking Rome.”

The Whitney also laments Books and Co.’s plight, but museum officials argue that the museum made every effort to accommodate the store, yet for its own survival it “has a responsibility to manage our real estate in a way that is fair and reasonable and that maximises its return to the museum.”

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'Books versus Basquiats?'

Appeared in The Art Newspaper Archive, 70 May 1997