The National Arts Club in New York, housed in a National Historic Landmark building on Gramercy Park, is unveiling three gallery spaces that were renovated and remodelled during the pandemic. Although they are in a private club, the galleries are open to the public and free to visit—with an advanced reservation for the time being, due to Covid-19.
“The goal was to really revitalise the galleries and to reinvigorate the club into a more vibrant and flexible space for exhibiting art and as a place for art and artists to gather,” says David Scott Parker, the architect behind the redesign. “The ground floor galleries were previously very much discreet, separate spaces, and so what we looked at was how to make them more open and inviting to visitors and even passersby on the street.”
One of less than 2,600 National Historic Landmarks in the country—273 of which are in New York—the club sits in a pair of townhouses at 15 Gramercy Park South which previously belonged to Samuel Tilden, a former governor of New York who ran for president of the US in 1876, winning the popular vote but losing the electoral college—resulting in the controversial Compromise of 1877. A few decades later, in 1906, the club moved into 15 Gramercy Park South.
“For the salon space, we carefully peeled back carpet on the walls, masonite paneling and such, and in doing so we discovered the original plaster with the green paint left from Tilden’s time. There were also shadows of paneling that had been applied over the plaster walls when the club first took over the building,” Parker says. “We opted to leave those walls with their somewhat distressed finish and the shadows of what had happened, so the walls in effect are a palimpsest of the history of the club. The space doesn’t speak to one particular time but more to a passage of time. So the space is not about one period but it’s about multiple periods, and that simultaneity is something that art really speaks to. Art and history are not frozen, they are constantly evolving.”
The renovated spaces are opening with a pair of shows dedicated to a new series of colourful abstract paintings by Greg Goldberg, and New York City street photography created during the pandemic by Graham MacIndoe.
Ben Hartley, the NAC’s director, says the public galleries “are an extension of our arts programmes, and allowing greater access to art in our community really is an extension of our mission” as a social hub, he says. “New Yorkers live in a city with no central marketplace for gossip, we’re largely anonymous, and we are in mostly small apartments, so to come to a club where you can see someone and talk with them, and be in a grand space which in our case is a series of period rooms and galleries, it fulfills a real basic human need which is community.” Even if at the moment, such socialising still needs to be done while wearing a face mask and maintaining a distance from other visitors.