Works on Paper from the NYU Art Collection


Too little known is the Grey Art Gallery’s permanent art collection. New York University students, faculty, and staff might be familiar with some parts of it—over 800 works from the collection are installed throughout the campus. The collection dates back to 1958, when Department of Art Education Professor Howard Connant re-initiated the concept of a “museum of living art” on campus. Professor Connant was, of course, referring to A.E. Gallatin’s Museum of Living Art, which was housed on these premises from 1927 to 1942, as noted in last year’s Grey Art Gallery exhibition The Park Avenue Cubists. Presented here is a selection of works on paper from the collection, which now numbers over 4,800. This is a particularly opportune moment, we felt, to highlights this under-recognized aspect of the Grey Art Gallery. The past year saw the initiation of a Collections Committee to help strategize how best to use this resource which, due to limited space, remains largely hidden from public view.

For this presentation, we selected works on paper dating primarily from the 1940s, ’50s, and ’60s, the decades that Diane Arbus, the subject of the exhibition upstairs, was active as an artist and photographer. In the 1940s, Diane, then a student at Fieldston, the Riverdale campus of New York’s Ethical Culture School, declared art as her major and spent a summer at art school. She also frequented the Museum of Modern Art, both with her classmates and with her husband-to-be, Allan Arbus. In 1941 she began studying photography, and the rest, as they say, is history.

The New York University Art Collection is particularly rich in works from the 1950s and ’60s, amazingly fertile decades in the New York art scene. On view here is Philip Guston’s Dark Form, 1963, which some might remember seeing in the Grey’s show Rudy Burckhardt and Friends: New York Artists of the 1950s and ’60s in spring 2000, which featured Burckhardt’s photographic portraits of artists in their studios alongside works by them, primarily from the NYU collection. Presented more recently were Siah Armajani’s Sealed Letter, 1964, and Hossein Zenderoudi’s The Hand, c. 1960. Both were included in Between Word and Image: Modern Iranian Visual Culture, which was co-organized with NYU’s Kevorkian Center for Near Eastern Studies and was on view at the Grey in fall 2002. These two works are part of the Abby Weed Grey Collection of Modern Asian and Middle Eastern Art, which Mrs. Grey bequeathed as part of her gift to endow a museum at NYU.

Many of the works on view were presented in a traveling exhibition, Behind the Line: An Inquiry into Drawing, curated by Thomas W. Sokolowski, my predecessor at the Grey Art Gallery, which was circulated by the Gallery Association of New York State in 1988. Works on paper are, of course, the most intimate of art forms. In many, the artist’s hand is visible in the swift brushstroke of paint or ink, or in the precise graphite line of pencil. Some are studies for paintings or sculptures; others exist as autonomous works. The range of possibilities, like art itself, is infinite.

Lynn Gumpert, Director


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