The terms “cyclopean” and “inverted brutalist ziggurat” call to mind some temple that is scarier than an art museum, yet both are frequent descriptors for the Marcel Breuer-designed landmark at 945 Madison Avenue, Manhattan. The Breuer Building, as it is called, was constructed in the 1960s to house the Whitney Museum of American Art. It performed in that capacity until the Whitney felt cramped and moved to a new location. In 2016 the Met rented it, said it was the Met Breuer, and had some shows before closing due to the pandemic. The Frick Collection, with their Holbeins and such, was next. They just needed a spot to crash for a few years. The Frick’s lease ends in 2023, and upcoming plans for the building have not been made public. But no worries. There is a clear successor.
Spirit Halloween is a hermit crab retailer that sells fake blood and wigs and latex baby zombies. During the lead-up to All Hallow’s Eve they hop into empty commercial properties as short-term lessees. I remember the Spirits of my youth appearing in storefronts relinquished by Ross, Goodwill, and a boot shop. The soon-to-be-vacant Breuer Building features around 30,000 square feet of gallery space, modest for a world-class museum, but right in line with the retail footprints Spirit seeks. Further, the Breuer’s fourth floor boasts 17-foot, 6-inch ceilings. Due to Home Depot’s twelve-foot skeleton becoming a viral smash, big Halloween stuff is in. Imagine the joy in cowering under the lightbulb eyes of a tall werewolf as his nylon fur tangles in Marcel’s famous gridded ceiling.
Demand in the neighborhood is strong. A Spirit currently inhabits the former Duane Reade on Third Avenue, just off 74th Street. That is a quarter of a mile from 945 Madison. Why not make use of the famous locale that art critic Emily Genauer once dubbed “The Madison Avenue Monster?”
It is likely Spirit could capitalize on the art world pedigree of their newest store. The Breuer Building’s lower level is now a restaurant, but its future tenants would be wise to put art-historical costumes and accessories there. They already sell a Bob Ross outfit for $39.99. The Scream mask — $12.99 online from Spirit — looks similar to Edvard Munch’s The Scream. At one point the Met Breuer exhibited a lithograph of that painting. There is endless potential for synergy. The following artworks, which have all been shown at 945 Madison over the course of its three-institution history, should be cheaply reproduced with creepy eyes that dart back and forth:
- Piero della Francesca, St. Leonard (?), 1454-69
- Willem de Kooning, Woman, I, 1950-1952
- Roni Horn, You are the Weather, 1994-1995
Upon my arrival to Spirit Marcel, I stop briefly in the lobby to admire a rack of skeletons adjacent to a built-in sofa. They all have clown hair. Then I head downstairs, make a beeline past the bins of Warhol wigs and the motion-sensor pop-up Donald Judds to the photography section. With no particular agenda, yet in need of a getup, I begin to rummage. There are a thousand variations of Cindy Sherman. A lifelike mask of the Weimaraner Fay Ray is appealing, but outside my budget. At last I find an open-package costume of the photographer Stephen Shore shoved behind some bald caps. In the 1970s, Shore helped establish color photography as an institutionalized art form by driving back and forth across the United States and taking what he called “consciously casual” pictures of things like motels and his breakfast. He’s pretty cool. The costume is left over from last year and priced to move. Lucky me; I can pull this off. Back upstairs at the visitor services desk, a goth teenager with a walkie-talkie headset rings me up for $11.80. In the pristine bathroom I don the ensemble; it is stiff, but oddly cozy. Familiar. Then I go outside to find my Subaru and drive, Texas-bound, through the Holland Tunnel.