|Should you go?|
|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.|
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.
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.
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.
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.
Should You Visit the Milton Resnick and Pat Passlof Foundation?
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.
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!
|Address||87 Eldridge Street, Manhattan|
|Cost||General Admission: Free|
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