Renee and Chaim Gross Foundation

Edification value 4/5
Entertainment value 4/5
Should you go? 4/5
Time spent 126 minutes
Best thing I saw or learned I am fascinated by Asante goldweights, a thing that I didn’t know existed. In the traditional Asante culture of Ghana, when a man came of age he received a set of these bronze weights, for weighing gold dust (used as currency). They let you verify you’re getting the right amount of gold.

The Renee and Chaim Gross Foundation, New York
Asante Goldweights

They are beautiful little figures, each representing a different weight, as well as an Asante proverb or aphorism. They remind me of Japanese netsuke, another small men’s accessory that could be purely functional, but how nice that they are beautiful, too.

Chaim Gross was apparently as fascinated by them I am, given the multitude of them he collected and displayed in a mirrored case in his dining room.

Chaim Gross was a sculptor active in New York from the 1920s until his death in 1991. In 1963, well after he was a well-known artist, he and his wife Renee purchased a building on La Guardia Place in Greenwich Village to use as both home and studio. In 2005, after Renee passed away, the Gross Foundation considered what to do with the place, and ultimately decided to restore and open it to the public.

The Renee and Chaim Gross Foundation, New York
The Most Understated Museum in New York?

And yet, this place is supremely under the radar. I discovered its existence while compiling my master museum database. But I’ve walked by its building numerous times, and I never once thought it might be a publicly accessible museum, much less such an interesting one. It may be the most stealthy museum in New York City — or the second, after the New York Earth Room.

Without hesitation, you should definitely seek it out. It’s a remarkable tribute to an artist and his family.

The Foundation is only open for tours, taking reservations via its website. It’s the kind of small organization where my tour guide was Sasha Davis, the Executive Director of the Foundation itself. She was fantastic, a wealth of knowledge of, and warmth for, the Grosses, their art, and their world. She was also incredibly nice about delaying the start of our tour for a friend who was running late.

The Ground Floor

The parallels between the Gross Foundation and the Judd Foundation are deep — both studio/museum spaces open for visits. But where Donald Judd was a consummate minimalist, Gross was a masterful maximalist. His home is sensorily overwhelming, literally every square inch of wall and table space covered in art.

That maximalism begins with the foyer. The entryway at the Gross Foundation is filled with photographs of Chaim, his family, their circle of friends. You know, like Marilyn Monroe, Allan Ginsburg, just the usual crew. But I found this one particularly compelling.

The Renee and Chaim Gross Foundation, New York
All the Living American Artists in the Met, in the Met, 1983

It is, Sasha the Executive Director said, a picture of all the living American artists with work in the collection of the Met as of 1983. Taken at the Temple of Dendur. Warhol, Chaim Gross himself, Warhol, and Louise Nevelson are relatively easy to identify. But I’m apparently mortifyingly bad at artist spotting. Jasper Johns has to be in there.  Ditto Ryman, Nauman, Marden.  Judd, Frankenthaler, Martin. Georgia O’Keeffe would’ve been alive when this photo was taken, and surely the Met owned some of her work by the early 1980s, but she’s not there. So, mysteries abound. So far Googling has not turned up any info about the picture. I feel like there’s an essay here!The Renee and Chaim Gross Foundation, New York

The Renee and Chaim Gross Foundation, New York
Tools of the Trade

Past the entryway, the ground floor consists of a galley showcasing Chaim Gross’s work, as well as his airy, light-filled studio. That space, downstairs from the galley, is replete with his tools and several pieces he was working on when he died. It also a number of uncarved blocks of the now-rare tropical hardwoods Gross favored for sculpting. Sasha related that sometimes when other sculptors come to visit they eye those blocks covetously. The overall studio and gallery create a fascinating time capsule to the man and his art.

A Touching Moment

Sasha explained that Gross felt strongly that sculpture needs to be experienced haptically— that is, by touch — to really understand it. The Foundation has struggled a bit to figure out how to honor that sentiment, and just opened a temporary exhibit on its second floor of select pieces of Gross’s work that visitors can, yes, touch.

The Renee and Chaim Gross Foundation, New York
Hands-On Experience

It is incredibly weird to put your hands on a piece of art in a museum setting. Transgressive.  Like you’re violating a taboo, even when it’s totally sanctioned by the rules. A friend needed to wash her hands before she could do it. I had to make two tries and each time I pulled back before finally taking the tactile plunge. And it’s so interesting. I guess I agree with Gross. You can look at works from all angles and think you know them, but the sense of touch opens your eyes — pardon the metaphor! — to a sculpture’s true nature.

The woods Gross worked with are particularly touchable. Ebony, lignum vitae, others, each have their particular warmth, density, grain, and smoothness. There’s also a piece in alabaster in the tactile exhibit, but that stuff is sensitive to skin oil, you have to wear a glove to touch it. It’s still worth it!

The Living Rooms

The Renee and Chaim Gross Foundation, New YorkThe tour then ascends to the third and final public floor, which preserves the Grosses’ living and dining rooms, and the art therein. It’s an astonishing surfeit of things to see. Given Gross’s circle of friends and colleagues, it’s unsurprising that the collection includes pieces by Milton Avery, Willem de Kooning, Marsden Hartley, and many others.  The furniture is an interesting, eclectic mix as well, some midcentury some older. And then there’s the African art, which clearly was a major passion of Gross’s.

The tour touched on a broad swath of the collection; I think Sasha could probably speak to every single piece, though there’s no way we would’ve had time for that. I was impressed by the depth we went into on the African art — and by how clearly it influenced some of Gross’s own sculpture.

The Renee and Chaim Gross Foundation, New York

You Should Visit the Gross Foundation!

I have to confess that the name Chaim Gross meant little to me when I first added this place to my museum list. One of the reasons I saved it for near the end was I didn’t know just what to expect.  (Also, the studio was closed for renovation over the winter.) Upon visiting I realize I’ve certainly seen his work before, but I’ve never found it compelling enough to learn about.The Renee and Chaim Gross Foundation, New York

Much like my Noguchi Museum visit, long, long ago on this project, the Gross Foundation changed my thinking about his work, and gave me a far deeper appreciation for what he did and how he did it. He seems like a fascinating guy, with a great family. The only thing the tour doesn’t provide is a sense of Gross’s motivation for his art — what influenced him and why he created what he did remains enigmatic. Sasha Davis says he didn’t really say or write much about that aspect of himself. Even though he taught many artists, he always focused on technique, not so much on inspiration.

The Gross foundation is a tremendously good house museum, all the better for being so unjustly unknown. If you like the art and artists of mid-century New York, or any kind of sculpture, you really have to go. Visiting was a glimpse into a life and a body of work that I wish I’d known about sooner.

The Renee and Chaim Gross Foundation, New York
Chaim Gross, Self Portrait

Gross’s maximalist art collection and great eye ensure that it is extremely unlikely to get old. This was my first visit to the Gross Foundation, but I’m sure it won’t be my last one.

For Reference:

Address 526 Laguardia Place, Manhattan (near Bleecker Street)
Website rcgrossfoundation.org
Cost  General Admission:  $15.  Advance tour reservations required.
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Coney Island Museum

Edification value 3/5
Entertainment value 3/5
Should you go? 4/5
Time spent 52 minutes
Best thing I saw or learned I liked three bumper cars on display, dating from (from left to right) the 1950s, the 1930s, and the 1980s. They demonstrate that if a technology is sufficiently perfect, it won’t change much over time.

Coney Island Museum, Brooklyn
Evolution of Bumper Cars
   
   

It often goes overlooked, but New York, like Venice, is a city of islands. And not just the obvious Manhattan, Staten, and Long.  This project has taken me to many of the city’s lesser islands, including City, Governor’sLiberty, and Ellis.  There’s no museum on Roosevelt Island, I note. But now, near the end of my journey, I’ve gone to Coney.

Coney Island Museum
The View From the Museum

Coney Island. Iconic playland for New York City, and thanks to twentieth century mass media, for the entire country.  Maybe the world.  Slightly tawdry, slightly tacky, entirely fun and open to one and all, the very name evokes the image of hot summer days, boardwalks, hot dogs, and a thousand and one sticky, sunburned delights. Continue reading “Coney Island Museum”

Queens Botanical Garden

Edification value 2/5
Entertainment value 3/5
Should you go? 2/5
Time spent 84 minutes
Best thing I saw or learned The plants are terrific, but I will pick this tucked-away sundial.

Queens Botanical Garden, Flushing

It was a gift from Queens-based Bulova Watch Company, and a garden resident since April of 1951!

I still wonder whether I was right to include botanical gardens in my definition of museums. However, I did it, and I haven’t undone it. So another garden it is. I didn’t even know the Queens Botanical Garden existed when I started this project.  However, it does bill itself as “a living museum,” so its staff seem to agree with me.  It also calls itself “a place of peace and beauty for the quiet enjoyment of our visitors.” Please reserve your noisy enjoyment for places like the American Museum of Natural History.

Queens Botanical Garden, Flushing

Continue reading “Queens Botanical Garden”

Enrico Caruso Museum

Edification value 3/5
Entertainment value 3/5
Should you go? 3/5
Time spent 88 minutes
Best thing I saw or learned In 1997, Aldo Mancusi presided over a gala event honoring Enrico Caruso. In 2018, in the dining-room-turned-tiny-theater of the Caruso Museum, we watched selected bits on a (literal) videotape. It was downright weird to see then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani deliver a thoughtful, erudite, witty speech unveiling a proclamation in honor of Caruso and Aldo’s museum.

And it made me wonder, what made late ’90s Giuliani transform into today’s Giuliani?  They seem so different from one another.

Of all the random museums I’ve visited during this project, the Enrico Caruso Museum is surely, surely the randomest. Sorry, Mossman Lock Collection, you’re now #2. The Caruso Museum has been on my list from the very start, but I’ve kind of been saving it.  I understood that it was the project of an obsessive collector, an elderly Italian gent, who kept it in his apartment, which he opened to the public on Sundays by appointment.

That’s a little disconcerting, in the way that all obsessions–and obsessives–can be. “I’m gonna call you before I go in,” I joked to a friend. “If you don’t hear from me in an hour, alert the authorities!” Continue reading “Enrico Caruso Museum”

Bronx River Art Center

Edification value 2/5
Entertainment value 3/5
Should you go? 2/5
Time spent 17 minutes
Best thing I saw or learned Samantha Holmes’s piece for Starlight Park, made of carousel horses rising out of the earth, like a zombie amusement ride or the merry-go-round of the apocalypse.  

Bronx River Art Center
Samantha Holmes, “Starlight Ride,” design for Starlight Park

The model is sort of slapdash charming, I trust the real one will be more impressive.

Bronx River Art Center

Founded in 1987, the Bronx River Art Center (BRAC for short) occupies a building indeed located right next to the Bronx River. It just reopened after a thorough renovation, with a distinctive paint job that features terrific branding and makes it very easy to spot from the West Farms Square elevated station.

Bronx River Art Center
BRAC from the elevated platform

BRAC serves its community as a performance, exhibition, and studio space, and includes a small art gallery in its lobby.

The gallery at the Bronx River Art Center is fairly plain. I have no idea what it looked like pre-renovation, but post-renovation it’s a neutral, nondescript space. Big windows look out onto busy East Tremont Street. Continue reading “Bronx River Art Center”

Dorsky Gallery Curatorial Programs

Edification value 3/5
Entertainment value 3/5
Should you go? 3/5
Time spent 27 minutes
Best thing I saw or learned
Matthew Cusik at Dorsky Gallery
Matthew Cusik, Three Horses, #4/20, 2011, print

Matthew Cusik creates images that initially look drawn or painted, but close up reveal that they’re collaged from meticulously cut up pictures, in the case of “Three Horses,” atlases.  It was like seeing all the oceans of the world in a single wave.

Matthew Cusik, “Three Horses,” close-up view

Just a couple of blocks beyond the Museum of Modern Art’s Queens outpost of PS1 lies Dorsky Gallery Curatorial Programs, another entrant in Long Island City’s burgeoning contemporary arts scene.

Despite the “gallery” in its name, Dorsky doesn’t sell art. Rather it is “dedicated to promoting contemporary visual arts to a broad public audience.” It holds three to four thematic exhibitions a year, for edification not commerce.  The gallery doesn’t have a permanent curator; rather it invites “curators, writers, and art historians” to submit proposals for shows to fill the gallery.  It also serves as an art exhibition space for several local colleges not blessed with their own on-campus art museums.

Dorsky Gallery Curatorial ProgramsDorsky’s building is modern, nondescript, and nearly windowless. It could house a small self-storage space, techie startup coworking space, or a secret government lab as easily as it could a setting for art. The interior is sleek and contemporary, which in New York gallery terms means high ceilings, column-less interiors, and concrete rather than wood floors. Actually, there are 2 art spaces at Dorsky and they split the difference, floor-wise.

Dorsky Gallery Curatorial Programs

Wake

The show I saw at Dorsky Gallery Curatorial Programs has one of the cleverest, simplest titles of all the art installations I’ve seen for this project. “Wake” is about water. Paraphrasing the guy minding the gallery when I visited, it’s about where water used to be and is no longer, and where it wasn’t before but increasingly is now, and will be into the future.

And yet it wasn’t all a climate change doom-and-gloom-fest. Though there was quite a bit of that.  A fair amount of the exhibit just celebrated water and the life it contains, with a combination of abstract and representational work, and paintings, prints, drawings, sculpture, and even some art books.

Dorsky Gallery Curatorial Programs

Naoe Suzuki at Dorsky Gallery
Naoe Suzuki, “Water is Taught by Thirst (Blue), Central Adirondacks,” 2015, Mineral pigment, watercolor, tea on paper

Naoe Suzuki, for example, examines inland waterways, depicting just the water, no labels, no forests, no towns or roads, in large format with blue watercolor on tea-stained paper.  They could be abstractions, pictures of anything, but at the same time, they couldn’t be pictures of anything else.  I liked them, along with most of the rest of the work on display.

Should You Visit Dorsky Gallery?

Dorsky Gallery Curatorial ProgramsDorsky is pretty small, and may not always justify even the quick-and-easy trip from Manhattan to Long Island City.  I was the only visitor when I went on on a dreary weekend day; the guy minding the place cheerfully turned on the lights for me.  He seemed happy to have a visitor, and to discuss the art and artists, and the place with me.

Dorsky’s curatorial approach is really interesting, and if “Wake” typifies what it puts on, I’m glad that it’s now on my cultural radar.  If you’re at all interested in contemporary art, I recommend a visit.  And if you’re going to PS1 anyway, it’s a simple matter to add a half hour before or after to check out this small, interesting venue.

Dorsky Gallery Curatorial Programs

For Reference:

Address 11-03 45th Avenue, Long Island City, Queens
Website dorsky.org
Cost  General Admission:  Free
Other Relevant Links

 

Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Art Gallery, Columbia University

Edification value 3/5
Entertainment value
Should you go? 3/5
Time spent 68 minutes
Best thing I saw or learned A set of prints by Julie Mehretu and Jessica Rankin titled “Struggling With Words That Count, 2014-2016.” Less abstract than I’m used to from Mehretu, they combined mostly serene and spacey images with obscure texts in a way I really liked.

Julie Mehretu, Wallach Art Gallery

I started this project a bit over a year ago fully aware that things would change — I’d discover new museums to add to my list, and remove ones that didn’t fit my evolving definition of “museum.” Sure enough, one museum I’ve reviewed, the terrific Fisher-Landau Center in Queens, has shut down.

And another museum, Columbia University’s Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Art Gallery, has moved to spiffy new digs.  I recently edited my review of the Jewish Museum, based on the terrific reinstallation of its permanent collection.  That makes this my second re-review of an institution.  (Check out my review of Wallach 1.0 here.)

Wallach Art Gallery, Columbia
Wallach 2.0’s Sweeping Hudson Views

Continue reading “Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Art Gallery, Columbia University”

Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Art Gallery, Columbia University

Note:  Columbia’s Wallach Art Gallery was the second place I reviewed on this epic quest.  I published the review below on March 5, 2017.  The Wallach Gallery subsequently moved to spiffy new space in Columbia’s new arts center, and I’ve created a re-review of it. Read that here.

Edification value
Entertainment value
Should you go? 2/5
Time spent 24 minutes
Best thing I saw or learned A postcard rack with postcards based on a large-scale photograph Carissa Rodriguez took of a photograph by Trevor Paglen (of a secret military base), hanging in the home of Bay Area art collectors Mike and Kaitlyn Krieger.  I am a sucker for meta.

My second entry and already I’m in trouble.  Am I reviewing spaces, or exhibits?  The Wallach Gallery, on the 8th floor of Schermerhorn Hall at Columbia, has no permanent collection.  It is just a space for temporary shows.  I started writing this about “Finesse,” the current show there, and realized that’s not quite right. Continue reading “Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Art Gallery, Columbia University”

Federal Reserve Bank of New York Museum

 

Edification value  3/5
Entertainment value  
Should you go?  4/5
Time spent 108 minutes
Best thing I saw or learned The tantalizing glimpse into the gold vault.  I’m not awed by wealth, generally, but there’s wealth and there’s WEALTH.

Federal Reserve Bank of New YorkThe Federal Reserve Bank of New York occupies a huge (full city block) beautiful Italian palazzo of a building constructed for it in 1924.  Its classical grandeur meant to evoke the stability of many centuries of tradition. Solid and rich, like a Medici. Which was important, because the Fed was then still a fairly young institution created to stabilize the financial system and steer the economy in the right direction.

Security at the New York Fed exceeds even that of the United Nations. And frankly, in terms of relative institutional importance, that might be appropriate.

However, mere mortals can in fact visit. Limited free tours introduce visitors to the history and role of the Federal Reserve System, explain what the New York Fed does in particular, and, best of all, permit them to ogle one of the largest accumulations of gold in the world. Continue reading “Federal Reserve Bank of New York Museum”

Ellis Island National Museum of Immigration

Edification value  
Entertainment value 4/5
Should you go?  
Time spent 213 minutes
Best thing I saw or learned Ellis Island National Immigration Museum, New York

Ellis Island’s mental health tests were simple puzzles designed to be as culturally and linguistically neutral as possible. In theory, they quickly weeded out anyone who needed a closer cognitive look.

The classic twofer of New York Harbor is typically viewed as nerdy little brother Ellis overshadowed by big sister Liberty, who enlightens the world.  But from a museum perspective it is the reverse.  Ellis Island’s outstanding National Museum of Immigration tells the story of a unique era in American history, in the space where that era unfolded.  Twelve million people got their starts in the United States right here.

Ellis Island National Immigration Museum, New York Continue reading “Ellis Island National Museum of Immigration”