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New York: Nine tips for dodging crowds, enjoying new Whitney Museum

The new Whitney Museum of American Art can feel crowded. Go late Thursday evenings for a quieter experience.

The Whitney Museum of American Art opened its new home in New York City's Meatpacking District on May 1, and New Yorkers and visitors have come in droves. I turned up on a recent Saturday and was discouraged by the line that wrapped half of the building.

My advice: Stick it out. Visiting the Whitney, in its stylish new Renzo Piano building, is an experience that's as much about the art as it is about the setting. It has become an instant landmark.

I went twice in early May, waiting as long as 45 minutes in line, to see the inaugural "America Is Hard to See" show that's drawn from the museum's collections. The artwork dates from 1910 to the present, with a strong accent on social commentary on politics and pop culture.

The show is a conversation you never want to end as you stroll from piece to piece in each light-filled gallery. Here are some tips to smooth the way for a visit to see this show that closes in September.

1. Buy tickets in advance: This sounds like a no-brainer, but when you encounter huge lines around the building (as I did a few Saturdays ago), you'll be thankful you did. Tickets cost $22 each and are timed for entry dates, but you may stay as long as you like. Also, it costs nothing extra to buy tickets online. One other tip: LACMA members at patron and supporting levels get in free under a reciprocal museum admission policy.

2. Are you in or out? Your ticket gets you in but not in-and-out. At least that's how it was when I visited. Adrian Hardwicke, the museum's director of visitor services, says the museum is starting to "relax" that policy and allow readmissions. So feel free to ask them to stamp your ticket in case you need to take a break.

3. Top-down viewing: "America Is Hard to See" isn't entirely chronological, so you really can enter on any floor. On my two visits, I started at the top (the eighth floor) and walked down the stairs to stop at each floor rather than use the elevators, which filled fast. Floors five through eight and a gallery on the first floor are dedicated to exhibition space.

4. Best time to visit: Thursday evenings between 8 and 10 p.m. have been the quietest times so far, says Hardwicke. Hours are 10:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sundays, Mondays and Wednesdays, and 10:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.

5. Don't just look at the art: There are lots of opportunities to go outside at this museum, and it may give you a reprieve from the crowded inside galleries. Balconies provide panoramic views, with the Hudson River on one side, and the High Line and the Empire State Building on the other. It's a fantastic indoor-outdoor way to experience the building's design.

6. Don't/do sit on the sculptures: This is a little tricky. No, you cannot sit (as people did during my visit) on the Robert Morris sculpture "Untitled (3 Ls)" on the sixth-floor balcony. But you may sit in Mary Heilmann's sculpted chairs that appear, in museum-speak, like a "shower of confetti" on the fifth floor balcony.

7. Take the subway: The easiest way to get to this very westside Meatpacking District is via the subway and exiting at 14th Street. The A, C and E trains will take you to 15th and 16th streets at 8th Avenue; the L train will take you to 14th Street and 8th Avenue. You'll have about a five-block walk to the museum.

8. Go after-hours: Those who come late or early when the building is closed will be rewarded with a full-on view of Richard Artschwager's "Six in Four." It exists inside the building's four elevators, each decorated with motifs of mirror, basket and other images. After hours, the elevators are left open, displaying the artwork in its entirety.

9. Stretch your legs: Leave time for a stroll on the nearby High Line, the elevated freight rail line that's been transformed into a city park. It features outdoor sculptures and murals -- and the best mid-level views of New York City on an uninterrupted walkway from Gansevoort Street (near the museum) to West 34th Street between 10th and 11th avenues. It's open 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily.

Info: Whitney Museum of American Art, 99 Gansevoort St., (212) 570-3600

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