Milton Resnick and Pat Passlof Foundation

Edification value 3/5
Entertainment value 2/5
Should you go? 2/5
Time spent 40 minutes
Best thing I saw or learned I appreciated the arrows penciled on the sides of Andrew Spence’s paintings (themselves rather nice, too), orienting curators, gallery staff, and curious viewers as to which way is up.Resnick Foundation

Milton Resnick and Pat Passlof were a husband-and-wife team of New York-based abstract expressionists, working alongside de Kooning and Ad Reinhardt. I have to confess I’d never heard of either of them before visiting their museum. Which, in my Joe-centric way leads me to conclude they were less successful than say Pollock or Krasner, but maybe they’re just under my radar.

In any case, following Resnick’s death in 2004 and Passlof’s in 2011, a foundation was created to further their legacy. Eight years later, that foundation recently finished transforming Resnick’s old home and studio into a moderately sized art museum.

Resnick Foundation Exterior

Temple Resnick

The Resnick-Passlof Foundation’s building was a modest-yet-classic Lower East Side synagogue until 1963, when the couple moved in. Resnick, who favored really large canvases, painted in what used to be the congregation’s meeting space. I wonder what it looked like in its art-creating prime, as it’s entirely different now. 

Indeed, not much of the building as it was remains following a thorough transformation to stabilize the place and conform with building codes and modern museum design principles.  It’s definitely not an experience like the fantastic Judd or Renee and Chaim Gross Foundations, where you get a sense of the artists as people as well as their work.

Instead the Resnick~Passlof Foundation offers three floors of galleries: two small in  scale, and the old congregation meeting area now a big, exciting space complete with tall windows, wood floors, fancy new staircase, and grand piano.

Resnick Foundation Interior

On an in-between floor, mostly Foundation offices, visitors can peek into a tiny, meticulously preserved studio that Resnick used late in his life, when infirmity forced him to work in different media and at a far smaller scale. That one spot gives a sense of Resnick the person.

What I Saw

The intent with the Resnick+Passlof Foundation is not to solely show off the work of those two artists. Instead the smaller galleries will at least sometimes host exhibits of  other artists’ work, in  conversation with Resnicks (and eventually Passlofs). 

The current show is called “Doing What Comes Naturally: Seven Painters in Their Prime” — a group show of contemporary abstract artists of various flavors.

The soaring congregation gallery hosts nine Resnicks, including “Elephant,” his biggest work.  All are very textural, with thick impasto paint that reminded me of lava flows or brownie batter. I like that kind of painting, but I always feel tempted to touch it!

Which I did not do.

There’s very little information about Resnick or about the works, just some minimal wall texts. As an outsider to this couple and their art, I would have benefited greatly from an audio guide or some other aid.

The fourth floor gallery charmed me by having a skylight, and a ceiling that is far from level — it reminded me of those illusion rooms where if you stand at one end you’re a giant and at the other end teensy.

Resnick Foundation

Piano Recital and Guide

As I was making my way downstairs from the 4th floor gallery, I heard piano music. At first I thought the staff had plugged an iPhone into the audio system, but then I discovered gentleman sitting at the shiny grand piano in the congregation gallery and just casually playing. I love a free concert. I stopped and listened to him for a while, and later struck up a conversation.

The pianist was Geoffrey Dorfman, a Foundation Trustee and Resnick biographer. Basically the best possible person a sub rosa museum reviewer could speak with. He was super nice, and shared some insights into the conversion of the space, the time and cost to stabilize it and make it accessible (adding a better elevator, the new staircase, restrooms, etc.) as well as the crazy amount of cost ($4,000) and trouble it was to get “Elephant” (pictured below) into place. It involved slicing a long, skinny hole in the floor.

Elephant, By Milton Resnick
Jumbo-Sized Painting

Should You Visit the Milton Resnick and Pat Passlof Foundation?

Resnick Foundation Facade

I liked the Resnick*Passlof Foundation less than I expected, because there’s less of Resnick and Passlof there than I was expecting. I was glad I got to talk with Mr. Dorfman — even a short conversation with someone who knew the man and the place was far more enlightening than what the Foundation offers a casual and non-expert visitor.

Although it is a lovely jewel box of a museum, it has very little to evoke the place Resnick and Passlof lived and worked. Even some “before” photos of what the spaces looked like in Resnick and Passlof’s time would’ve been a great help in that regard.

Having seen Resnick’s work, I’m still not sure of his position in the pantheon of Abstract Expressionists. If you’re an AbEx fan, of if you were on a first-name basis with Pat and Milton, by all means go. Otherwise you’ll see more and learn more about that period by visiting MoMA.

That said, the architecture is neat, and it’s free!  And this stretch of the Lower East Side is home to two other institutions that combine for a fun, thematic afternoon. The outstanding Eldridge Street Synagogue is just a few blocks away. And the obscure, community-focused museum of the Kehila Kedosha Synagogue is also nearby.  A trifecta of synagogues in various states of use and adaptation.

Resnick Foundation

Also, if you visit the Resnick/Passlof Foundation and you want a bite after, I strongly recommend Vanessa’s Dumpling House, just up the street. Cheap and delicious!

For Reference:

Address 87 Eldridge Street, Manhattan
Website resnickpasslof.org
Cost  General Admission:  Free
Other Relevant Links

Kehila Kedosha Janina Synagogue and Museum

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Edification value  3/5
Entertainment value  2/5
Should you go?  2/5
Time spent 32 minutes
Best thing I saw or learned In addition to the historic photos and artifacts the museum has a series of odd, delicate, contemporary wire sculptures hanging below the skylight.  

Kehila Kedosha Jenina Synagogue and Museum

I couldn’t find any explanation for who made them or why they were there.  Google solves the mini-mystery: they’re by Judy Moonelis.

Almost all Jewish people in the U.S. are either Ashkenazi or Sephardic.  Ashkenazi Jews trace their ancestry to central or eastern Europe, while Sephardic people lived in the Iberian peninsula, until they were expelled by Ferdinand and Isabella.  However, they are not the only European Judaic traditions.  Tucked away on Broome Street in the Lower East Side is the only synagogue in the Western Hemisphere serving Romaniote Jews, a distinct, ancient, Greek community.

Kehila Kedosha Janina Synagoge and Museum, Lower East Side

The congregation of Kehila Kedosha Janina occupies a modest 1927 building, currently one of the last active synagogues on the Lower East Side.  And since 1997 the building has also housed a museum on its upstairs floor– open only on Sundays as of this review– presenting photographs and artifacts describing the community and its traditions. Continue reading “Kehila Kedosha Janina Synagogue and Museum”

Clemente Center

Edification value 2/5 
Entertainment value  2/5
Should you go?  2/5
Time spent 22 minutes
Best thing I saw or learned Pat Lay’s cheery-creepy cyborg sculptures, particularly the punk-borg “Transhuman Personae #12”

Clemente Center

I’ve never been to an art gallery in 19th century school building that also housed an Escape the Room game before.  But there is a first time for everything, particularly when you’re determined to go to every museum in New York City.

Clemente Center

The Clemente Center occupies P.S. 160, a public school building dating to 1897, built in the grand institutional gothic style, all pointed arches and stone- and iron-Clemente Centerwork.  Abandoned as a school due to a fire in the pyromaniacal 1970s, the Clemente Soto Vélez Center was founded in 1993.  It operates a number of endeavors in the building, including four theaters, artist studios, rehearsal spaces, two art galleries, and the aforementioned Escape the Room game.

The vestibule features a plaque from its founding as P.S. 160, with the names of a slew of great and good late 19th C. Dead White Males who contributed.  Times have changed.  Continue reading “Clemente Center”

Abrons Arts Center

Edification value  3/5
Entertainment value 2/5
Should you go?  2/5
Time spent 28 minutes
Best thing I saw or learned Abrons Arts Center, Manhattan

Abrons Arts Center, ManhattanThe best thing was a juxtaposition of Jordan Nassar’s white-and-blue embroidered designs and Joseph Shetler’s complex abstractions of blue pencil. I liked each, and they proved great complements to one another.

Lillian Wald founded the Henry Street Settlement in 1893 to assist, educate, and care for the poor of the Lower East Side of Manhattan. During its 125 years, it’s been responsible for many civic-minded “firsts” in New York City.  These include the first nurse in a New York public school; several early playgrounds; summer camps; the visiting nurse service; low-income mental health services; and programs surrounding the arts.

Henry Street Settlement’s Arts for Living Center, founded in 1975, evolved into today’s Abrons Arts Center. Although the Abrons Center is primarily known for theater and performing arts, its rather unpleasant, semi-brutalist brick building also houses space for temporary art exhibitions.

Abrons Arts Center, Manhattan

Continue reading “Abrons Arts Center”

Lower East Side Tenement Museum

 

Edification value 4/5
Entertainment value
Should you go?  4/5
Time spent 109 minutes
Best thing I saw or learned My favorite fun fact from the tour is that the Lower East Side got the moniker “Klein Deutschland” before there even was a unified “Deutschland.”

There are certain combinations of places and architecture that just go together.  Paris+garret; Newport+mansion; San Francisco+Victorian ; Brooklyn+brownstone.  And “Lower East Side+tenement.”  It’s almost redundant to call a place the “Lower East Side Tenement Museum.”  But New York has one of those, and redundant or not, it is a fantastic, unforgettable recreation of a slice of life in this city.

Tenement Museum

How the Other Half Lived

The word “tenement” originally referred to any multiple dwelling building, what we’d call an “apartment” today.  Very quickly, however, “tenement” came to mean a very particular type of multiple dwelling building.  One aimed at the working class and recent immigrants, crammed with people and with very limited light, ventilation, and amenities.

Like how non-New Yorkers imagine New Yorkers live today, only even worse. Continue reading “Lower East Side Tenement Museum”

New Museum

 

Edification value  3/5
Entertainment value  4/5
Should you go?  3/5
Time spent 96 minutes
Best thing I saw or learned Kosovan artist Petrit Halilaj’s “Ru,” a room-sized installation of reproductions of Neolithic artifacts from Kosovo mounted on metal bird legs and perched in habitats of sticks and water, installed in a large white room.  

New Museum
Petrit Halilaj, “Ru” (detail)

It’s odd and obsessive and a little creepy and cute at the same time — like a Miyazaki movie come to life.

New Museum
Petrit Halilaj, “Ru” (detail)

New MuseumThe New Museum, devoted to cutting-edge contemporary art, turned forty years old this year.  I know because one of the exhibits on currently celebrates its history, with a timeline and select ephemera from past shows.

New Museum

Having turned 40 myself some years ago, I think it starts to feel a little ironic calling oneself “New” at that age.

Marcia Tucker, a curator at the Whitney in the 1970s, felt that new and emerging artists didn’t get a fair shake at “established” museums (this despite the Whitney Biennial).  She therefore set out to create an institution specifically for, well, the new.  And thus was yet another art museum born.

The New Museum moved into its current building on the Bowery in 2007, making that aspect of it still actually pretty new.  More on the building in a moment. Continue reading “New Museum”

International Center of Photography

Edification value  3/5
Entertainment value  3/5
Should you go?  3/5
Time spent 71 minutes
Best thing I saw or learned The lobby boasts a large interactive screen that enables visitors to browse through the ICP’s digital image collection, sorted by timeline or via a large number of tags/keywords.  It’s fun to see what comes up, and how images connect across times and places.

International Center of Photography

International Center of PhotographyThe International Center of Photography is one of two photo-specialist institutions in New York (the other being the Aperture Foundation).  It has a venerable history, founded in 1974 by the photographer Cornell Capa, the brother of even greater photographer Robert Capa.  It’s currently located on the Bowery, very close to the New Museum.

In addition to its museum space, the Center offers classes, a full-time school of photography, and events.

Ironically, the ICP does not allow photography inside its galleries.  I’m not certain whether that policy is general or just for the current show.  Regardless, I have a few shots of the lobby area and cafe, but that’s it.

The ICP Galleries

International Center of Photography features two moderately sized gallery spaces, as well as a small video screening area. Visitors begin in a bland rectangular space on the ground floor, then go downstairs to a similar space directly below.  I don’t have a lot to say about them — they are windowless and fairly generic, painted white when I visited. Continue reading “International Center of Photography”

DareDevil Museum of Tattoo History

Edification value  3/5
Entertainment value  3/5
Should you go?  3/5
Time spent 28 minutes
Best thing I saw or learned The story of Millie Hull from the Bowery. Family Circle magazine profiled her in December 1936 as New York’s “only lady tattoo artist.”

She explained her choice of profession by saying she found tattooing “more interesting than embroidery.”

At this point, it is rare that a museum sneaks up on me. I believe (well, I hope) my database is complete, though of course museums are always opening–and sometimes closing–in this town. However the other day as I was wandering along the blurry borders between the Lower East Side and Chinatown on the way to the Museum at Eldridge Street, I stumbled on the DareDevil Tattoo Parlor — AND Tattoo Museum.

DareDevil Tattoo Museum

Continue reading “DareDevil Museum of Tattoo History”

Museum at Eldridge Street

Edification value  4/5
Entertainment value  3/5
Should you go?  4/5
Time spent 50 minutes
Best thing I saw or learned Kiki Smith’s contemporary stained glass replacement for the museum’s original enormous rose window is extraordinarily beautiful. More about it in the review below.

Museum at Eldridge Street

Around the turn of the twentieth century, the various Jewish communities of the Lower East Side were coming into their own. Immigrants were doing what they do in the Land of Opportunity, pulling themselves up from abject poverty, starting businesses, and finding degrees of prosperity. A group of successful Orthodox Jews decided to build a house of worship that reflected their heritage as well as their new lives in the United States. That was the genesis of the Eldridge Street Synagogue, which opened in 1887.

Museum at Eldridge Street

Decline, and Rebirth

Fast forward to the early-mid 1900s.  As happens so often in New York, families moved to new neighborhoods, up and out of the Lower East Side. Eventually, the congregation dwindled and those who remained couldn’t maintain a huge, fancy house of prayer. So they shut it down, meeting in the basement. (A small congregation still meets here to this day). Sealed up, the space declined, and not genteelly. Glass broke, brass tarnished, and pigeons nested and pooped all over the place. Continue reading “Museum at Eldridge Street”