NOTE: This is my original review of ICP in its old space on The Bowery. Here are my thoughts on their new home on Essex Street.
Should you go?
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.
The 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”
Bellini’s wonderful St. Francis in the Desert now has a room to itself, angled to one of the Breuer’s weird, skewed windows such that the light hits it exactly the way the light in the painting works. It’s like Bellini knew back in the 1470s that someday this room would exist, or like Breuer knew someday this painting would be in this spot. It gave me chills. Also, St. Francis in the Desert has one of the best oblivious donkeys in all of art.
Have you ever had a dear old friend, tell you that they planned to change up their entire look? Style, hair, clothes, the way they present themselves…the whole shebang. Have you ever worried that, even though you know they’ll be the same person underneath the superficial changes, you might like them… less? Maybe tried to talk them out of it? “You’re awesome just as you are! Don’t go changing!”
This has never happened to me with a person, but it’s very much how I reacted when the Frick Collection announced that while Stately Frick Manor is closed for a major renovation and expansion, Mr. Frick’s art would be on view in Marcel Breuer’s Brutalist building, originally home to the Whitney and lately venue for the Met’s experimental, defunct Met Breuer effort.
There’s no overstating the magnitude of the change, the cognitive shock of Henry Clay Frick’s lovely, genteel, incredibly tasteful collection of masterpieces recontextualized out of the home that’s been its home for over a century, and re-installed in one of the least friendly buildings in New York City.
I feel like I should hate it. To be brutal(ist)ly honest, I wanted to hate it.
I loved it.
Possibly this is because it was my first art museum visit in 4 months. Maybe I was just starved for art…maybe you could’ve showed me anything and I would’ve gone into raptures. But I don’t think so.
Space: The Final Frontier
The clearest benefit of the move to the Breuer building is a ton of square footage to play with. I wonder if the Frick curators toyed with the idea of keeping everything more or less “where it was” — recreating the mansion’s rooms in the Breuer space. Like what they did with the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia. That would have been a terrible idea. Probably.
Instead, for the first time ever, the Frick collection is arranged chronologically and thematically. That sort of pedagogy is out of fashion in museums and seems very retro, but it makes tons of sense, and it feels new, because we’ve never been able to see this art this way before.
For example, the Vermeers are in one place, creating arguably the best single roomful of art in New York City (prove me wrong!). Holbein’s Thomas Cromwell and Thomas More now glare eye to eye, no fireplace or stern St. Jerome separating them. I never realized how many Van Dycks the Frick Collection had til I saw them all in one place.
The extra space also creates more breathing room between pieces. As a result, there’s less sensory overload, and so more ability to focus. Works that were second-tier Frick treasures get attention, and the Frick’s best pieces get showcased in ways the mansion doesn’t allow.
What’s more, things that were perviously part of the scenery — the porcelains, the bronzes, the carpets — now get spotlights, literally, thrown on them. The porcelain room is a particular delight, and its very contemporary design made me stop and pay attention to those pieces in a way I never have before.
The other remarkable change is you can get closer to some pieces now, and the heights and sight lines are different. It’s a literal shift of perspective. To wit, I’ve never been a fan of the froufrou Fragonard room with its insipid cherubs. It’s still definitely not my fave, but seeing its panels anew on Madison, rearranged, I realized that at least some of those cherubs are violent. And therefore a little edgy.
What’s Stayed The Same
In terms of things that haven’t changed, the Frick has retained its no-photos policy. While I deeply respect that, this is an utterly photogenic, super-Instagrammable experience. Visitors will be tempted!
Also, The Frick’s retained its no-wall-text philosophy. You can pick up a free guide, or download a reasonably good Bloomberg-sponsored app, but if you want, it can be just you and the art. I admire that.
A Whole New World
The best art makes you see the world in a new way, and the best museums make you see art in a new way. However, for a place like the Frick, there are few opportunities (outside of their jewel-box special exhibitions) to let people see the collection anew. That’s okay when you’re as perfect as the Frick. But perfection breeds inertia, and a resistance to innovate. It takes some doing to overcome that.
I’m surprised at how pithy my original, 2017 Frick review is. But it says what it needed to say: Everyone needs to go to the Frick. And I wish it would never change.
The Frick Madison forces me to rethink part of that conclusion. Everyone definitely needs to go to the Frick Madison, most especially people who know and love the original. And I stand happily corrected about the “never change” part. I can’t wait to go back.
Alfonse Mucha created lots of lovely ladies, but among the loveliest were the ladies who populate his dreamy, dusky series, “The Moon and the Stars.” My photo does not do them justice.
In a city that has a museum for everything from dogs to Enrico Caruso it’s somewhat surprising that we’ve lacked a museum for posters. Remedying that shortcoming is Poster House, which opened in July.
Poster House occupies a storefront in an early 1900s building on West 23rd Street. Old-school New Yorkers with a certain computational bent will recognize the building as the former home of Tekserve, the City’s original Mecca for all things Apple, before Apple itself moved in with its glass cubes, converted post offices, Grand Central balconies, and sundry other retail experiences. Tech retail’s loss is museum’s gain.
Within, visitors will find two floors of gallery spaces, along with the requisite café (quite a good one at that) and gift shop. The architecture is a really interesting hybrid, with the old 19th century columns and high ceilings preserved, but with highly contemporary concrete and blond wood interventions to define the interior spaces and jazz the place up. It’s a combination that could easily go wrong, but to my mind it’s one of New York’s most successful recently repurposed museum spaces.
Although the museum has a collection, given its fairly finite space and the delicate nature of posters themselves it’s going to host changing shows, rather than having anything permanently on display.
Poster House opted to inaugurate its space with a show devoted to the early work of Alfonse Mucha, a perfect subject for the institution. Mucha helped define the modern poster, as well as epitomizing art nouveau. Even if you don’t know who Mucha was, you’ve almost certainly seen his work — or homages, pastiches, or derivatives thereof. His deeply detailed, ornate, floral, curvy designs and the dreamy ladies with flowing, “macaroni” hair who populated them have influenced art and design straight through to the present.
The exhibition, titled “Art Nouveau/ Nouvelle Femme,” argued that Mucha’s depictions of women, graceful slightly naughty semi-nudes that nonetheless managed to be demure at the same time, represented a big break with past depictions of women in advertising. The curator describes Mucha women as (in their way, for their time) strong and active, in contrast to the “submissive advertising ladies” (quoting the exhibition note) of earlier posters. The show opens with Mucha’s work with the actress Sarah Bernhardt, his first big break, a successful partnership, and an influence on how Mucha saw and depicted women later in his career.
I love the allegorical nature of Mucha’s work. These are not allegorical times. I sort of miss an era when a woman could embody the continents or the seasons or the concept of Liberty. Or a brand of biscuit or bicycle.
On that note, Mucha did a set of seasonal ladies for a calendar and I swear it looks like Winter is about to eat a little bird. I expect she’s just blowing on the poor thing to warm it up. But in my mind, Winter’s hungry.
This exhibit bodes well for future shows at Poster House. It had something to say beyond “check out the pretty ladies,” and it made its argument well. And it doesn’t hurt that the works were indeed very lovely.
If I’m Cyan I’m Dyin’
The other inaugural show at Poster House could not have been more diverse from Mucha. I suspect the curators deliberately sought a subject to demonstrate the breadth of posters as an art and craft. And so a tiny jewel box of a gallery featured a mini-retrospective of the work of Cyan, an East Berlin graphic design firm from the 1990s that went a little nuts with desktop publishing software when it first became available in the former Eastern Bloc. Cyan’s posters feature amazing combinations of colors and layers. They make the viewer keep looking again and again, always seeing new things.
This exhibit taught me something new, and, like Cyan’s posters themselves, packed dense, interesting ideas into a teensy little space.
Other Things to See
Poster House also includes several interactive elements. I spent time with the ‘design your own poster’ feature, which walks through major poster styles, types and purposes. Mine is, I freely admit, pretty horrible. That’s why I review museums instead of designing posters. But if Boris Karloff had been a Mucha girl, it would have looked something like this.
Poster House also has an Instagrammy photobooth, wherein visitors can insert themselves into classic posters.
And a small kids area, with poster-related activities for young ones.
The gift shop also merits a bit more of a mention than I’ve given it — it’s quite good, and gives another impression of the slicker, more modern aspect of the interior design.
Should You Visit Poster House?
For a museum devoted to an advertising medium, Poster House seems oddly under-marketed. Its 23rd Street façade, which should be super-inviting, instead has featureless black glass. If I didn’t know it there was a museum inside, I would just walk by.
The place was very empty on the random weekend afternoon that I visited, soon after its grand opening. I was surprised that more curious New Yorker’s weren’t there. That’s especially true given the Mucha show. He’s pretty popular these days, and eminently Instagrammable.
I hope that the relative emptiness is just because it’s still new and working out its publicity, marketing, and advertising plans. This place deserves to be more popular.
That said, and realizing I’ve just written an emphatically “you should go!” review, I would be happy if Poster House stayed under the radar for a while. Nothing like being in-the-know for a superior small museum experience — as well as a good café in the Flatiron district — that’s not overwhelmed by its own popularity.
For the record, though, you should definitely visit Poster House.
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!
There’s only one actual dog at the Museum of the Dog — or a former one, anyway. Belgrave Joe died in 1888, and is the prototype Fox Terrier. And the mascot of the AKC Library. He reminded me of the nameless canine taxidermied and memorialized at the Fire Museum.
A Museum That’s Gone to the Dogs
The American Kennel Club Museum of the Dog is one of the newest museums in New York City, having opened in an office building lobby space near Grand Central in May of 2019. The Museum’s prior incarnation was located in St. Louis, but its move back to the Big Apple represents a homecoming for an institution based here from its founding in 1982 until 1987.
The museum is split over two airy, brightly lit floors with large windows looking onto East 40th Street. The design cleverly maximizes the limited floorspace, with temporary walls for paintings standing at a diagonal to the floorplan, and a series of library-style archival storage racks upstairs that visitors can look through.
Ironically, dogs are not allowed.
The museum unsurprisingly collects caniniana (I just made that word up). What’s on display is mainly art — paintings and a multistory vitrine of small knicknacks and sculptures. It also includes a very few artifacts, like a charming carousel animal carved like a parakeet. Okay, carved like a dog.
If I had to characterize the paintings, I’d say they were mostly fairly mediocre, and in most other museums would be relegated to study collections or dusty back rooms (indeed, I speculate dusty back rooms of other museums may even be the source of some of the collection). But, hey, they’ve got a dog in them, so here they are stars of the show. One particular favorite of mine featured what I declare to be the world’s most windswept poodle, out on the moors somewhere.
Who’s a Good Museum? Who’s a Good Museum?
The Museum of the Dog, like the AKC, is devoted to dogs, and their raising, training and breeding. Actually, almost exclusively the latter. Rather than dogs as companions, or dogs as living creatures, much of what’s on display speaks to dogs as objects that humans have shaped and molded over generations to create an astonishing array of variously lovable, weird, practical, and unlikely breeds.
One interactive element consists of a tabletop screen that with little dogs walking along it. Drag one to a doghouse and the table gives you all sorts of facts and lore about the breed.
There’s other interactivity as well. A kiosk snaps a visitor’s selfie and then identifies a breed of dog they resemble. I got tagged as a German Pinscher, which I suppose I’ll take. At least I’m not a pug in its machine vision eyes. Though my ears are definitely not that pointy.
The museum also contains the AKC’s modest library, including everything from children’s literature to a book on the art of Beagling (I did not make that word up).
Speaking of beagling, I was grateful that in a rare moment of showing a dog as an exemplar of popular culture, rather than an object, the curators had a single Peanuts comic on display.
Should You Visit the Museum of the Dog?
The AKC Museum of the Dog is a perfectly nice little museum. It’s very well designed, makes great use of its space, and doesn’t overwhelm the visitor. It’s a fun tribute to dogs, albeit one that’s very heavy on forgettable (except for that poodle) paintings and curios as the expression of dog.
The emphasis on dogs as breeds, as objects that humans create and curate, took some of the joy out of the subject for me. I hope future exhibits look more at dogs in other lights, but given what the AKC does for a living, I’m not optimistic about that.
I’m not sure who the Museum of the Dog wants as its audience. It’s a natural topic for a kid-focused institution, but aside from a rather boring interactive dog training simulator and an activity area in the library there’s not much here that would appeal to kids.
Fundamentally, if you’re an AKC member you should absolutely go — you’re self-selected (I’d almost say bred) to love it. If you deeply love dogs, deeply, you might like it, too. For everyone else, $15 feels steep for what they have on display and what you learn.
101 Park Avenue, Manhattan (entrance on East 40th Street)
Yuken Teruya’s complex, captivating, thought-provoking constructions made from and contained within shopping bags. My very favorite were “Constellation,” a series of intricate night skies — a universe in a discarded Barney’s bag.
Even before you get to it, the Sugar Hill Children’s Museum of Art and Storytelling makes a strong and unexpected impression. It occupies an airy, light-filled, below-ground space in a distinctive building — an utterly modern, 2014 low-income apartment house that looks like anything but low-income housing. The building was designed by Sir David Adjaye, who also designed Washington, DC’s National Museum of African American History.
The Sugar Hill Museum, which refreshingly does not have a “SHCMo…” acronym, was a key programmatic element of the building, along with a preschool and a community art gallery.
The place knows its audience. I appreciated its kid’s-eye-level sign that explains not a list of “don’ts,” but “rules for being cool” while visiting. I don’t know if that works, but I appreciate the gesture.
Art To Make
The Sugar Hill Museum, knowing its audience, splits its programming very evenly between art to look at (in several gallery spaces and a studio) and art to make in a main multipurpose space and what I’ll call a sort of art lab. There’s blocks to stack, a wall you can paint (with water — it’s kind of fun to watch your graffiti disappear slowly as it dries), leaves to color and other things to make.
The museum also has an artist-in-residence program. Currently the artist is Damian Davis, who makes layered collages bolted together out of shapes cut from plastic. Playing off his work, a group activity during my visit involved letting young visitors assemble their own layered creations with a variety of precut shapes, in soft foam. It was clever, and when we visited Mr. Davis in the studio the kids I was with were excited to talk with him about their creations.
Art to See
The first piece of art a visitor sees at the Sugar Hill Children’s Museum of Art and Storytelling is a charming array of floating houses that animates the light well that makes the subterranean space feel, well, above ground.
In addition to the artist-in-residence’s studio, two rooms hold temporary exhibitions. The museum curates those to reflect themes of the neighborhood, as well as subject matter suited to the target audience. When I visited one gallery hosted the works of Faith Ringgold, an activist, but also a children’s book author and illustrator. Her work does a great job of raising issues of cultural and political history in a kid-friendly way.
The other gallery, a narrow space well suited to small shows and short attention spans, is where the museum showed Yuken Teruya’s work. Obsessively, beautifully cut and folded trees made from paper bags comment eloquently on consumerism and the environment, while being beautiful at the same time. The kids I was with were as fascinated by these pieces as I was.
Should You Visit the Sugar Hill Children’s Museum of Art and Storytelling?
The Sugar Hill Museum designs its programming primarily for children ages 3-8. But I think even a slightly older kid, if they like art, would enjoy it, at least for a while. It’s not overwhelming, which is great. You can go, spend an hour or two, make something neat, see some art, talk to an artist, hear a fortuitous jazz concert, and be done.
It’s an unexpected space, in a noteworthy building. And the curators do a good job keeping grown-ups engaged along with the young ones.
Most importantly, I think the museum is — rarity in today’s New York — something of a hidden gem as well. My borrowed kids and their mom and I went for the museum’s free third-Sunday day and yet while there were a healthy number of kids and caregivers there, it was not at all overrun.
I came away completely impressed at how well the museum executes its mandate. It could just be a smaller clone of the Children’s Museum of the Arts, but instead it’s distinctive, vibrant, and really, just a lovely, welcoming space in which to see and create art. I recommend it for anyone with kids.
898 St. Nicholas Avenue (at 155th Street), Manhattan
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
The plants are terrific, but I will pick this tucked-away sundial.
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.
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.
The model is sort of slapdash charming, I trust the real one will be more impressive.
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.
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”
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.
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’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.
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.
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 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.