There Goes The Neighborhood
In genteel Greenwich, Connecticut, Richard Gluckman turns a barn into a gallery for Peter Brant's provocative collection
Kate Sekules -- Interior Design, 8/1/2009 12:00:00 AM
The word that springs to mind on visiting the Brant Foundation Art Study Center is playful. How could it not be? The entrance to this stone barn, built in 1902 to store apples in the backcountry of Greenwich, Connecticut, is guarded by a giant pair of the 21st century's most iconic sculptures: Jeff Koons's Balloon Dog (Orange) and Paul McCarthy's Santa With Butt Plug (Large). Then, just inside the barn, a vagrant apparently passed out near the restrooms turns out to be Maurizio Cattelan's Andreas y Mattia.
This lighthearted approach to art grew out of a network of associations that spans at least two decades. It was the early 1980's when Richard Gluckman met the polo-playing newsprint, publishing, and real-estate magnate Peter Brant. "I first encountered Peter when we did the Andy Warhol Museum, because he has one of the great collections," Gluckman says, referring to the Pittsburgh institution that he completed in 1994. And several prime Warhols are currently on view in the Brant Foundation's inaugural exhibition. "Remembering Henry's Show: Selected Works 1978–2008" pays homage to a long-ago Metropolitan Museum of Art exhibition that was curated by Henry Geldzahler and had an enormous influence on Brant's collecting life, leading him toward a handful of contemporary New York artists and dozens of their successors. Warhol even became a friend.
Several living artists collaborated on the installation of "Remembering Henry's Show," as Brant's daughter Allison, the center's director and docent, relates. "It was a crazy two months of 12-hour days," she says, smiling at how Koons supervised the crew lifting his Pink Panther sculpture into place. Francisco Clemente personally hung all 82 of his Pondicherry Pastels in the library's anteroom, and Cattelan perched the taxidermic pigeons of his Turisti up in the rafters.
Those trusses, from a 1985 renovation by Johnson & Wanzenberg, are among the few elements that Gluckman Mayner Architects kept from the two-story, 9,800-square-foot structure's previous incarnations. "It took a while to understand the history—the fruit storage, the major intervention in 1985. But the forensic investigation was fun," Gluckman declares. Invisible from the modestly proportioned first gallery, then bursting into view as one enters the impressive double-height rear space, the cathedral ceiling crisscrossed with those trusses is quite a feature, especially with Cattelan's cheeky pigeons roosting there. "They're inexpensive, lightweight members that we had to reinforce. The dense, scrimlike effect is non-monumental, more of a structure than a form," Gluckman explains. The lightness and brightness both enhance the artwork and get out of its way, with invisible innovations such as lighting tracks customized to conceal a hanging system and HVAC diffusers. "I like the historical quality of the building and how it's married with this unexpected interior," Brant says. It's all refreshingly non-egotistical.
Flooring downstairs is terrazzo-ground concrete, chosen by the Brants for its texture—after much deliberation. "We went to all the Chelsea galleries," Allison Brant says. Father and daughter would walk in, and staff would ask, "Can I take you around the exhibition?" They'd reply, "No, thanks. We're just here to see the floor."
Though the foundation is open to the public by appointment, there are no labels on the walls. The works speak for themselves—and they speak especially loudly in the third and final gallery. Up a set of handsome oak stairs, a Keith Haring and Piotr Uklanski's controversial 164-photograph The Nazis are the first pieces to appear. Then come nine major canvases by painters Brant has long championed: Julian Schnabel, Jean-Michel Basquiat, David Salle, et al. Gluckman describes this area as "the tray suspended directly under the skylight." The latter seems to fill the place with serenity as well as sunshine. "It feels personal here," Allison Brant says. "You experience these works in such a different way."
Flooring upstairs is rift-cut oak. In the library, the ceiling is oak as well. "It refers back to the nature of a barn," Gluckman says. "It's a conceit of Don Judd's, too. Warms it up and makes it less gallerylike." This room is indeed quite intimate. Tall windows are graced by floor-length curtains in olive-colored Indonesian silk. In a corner sits Marc Newson's Lockheed lounge, the aluminum-and-fiberglass chaise that remains the world's single most expensive piece of contemporary furniture after selling for $1.6 million at Phillips de Pury & Company last April. Jean Royère's sofa and chairs, upholstered in lush purple or chartreuse velvet, gather near the original fieldstone fireplace—which now sports Cattelan's Stephanie, a naked torso of Brant's soon-to-be-former wife, Stephanie Seymour, hands placed delicately over breasts. On the walls, domestic-size canvases are by the latest and hippest of Brant's favored artists: John Currin, Elizabeth Peyton, Karen Kilimnik. Through French doors, a mahogany terrace wraps two sides of the building, and grassy steps function as bleacher seating for viewing matches on the manicured polo field beyond. That's a distinctly different kind of play.
Photography by Todd Eberle.
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