The gallery designed by Julian von der Schulenburg to show, store and manage Gertrude Stein’s collection is a programmatic hybrid of an art storage and exhibition space.
Several blocks north from the Chelsea art district, the Warehouse Gallery is located in a giant, city-block sized, 8-story concrete warehouse building from the 20s in Midtown-West. Monitored, protected, air and moisture conditioned, an art management company stores thousands of art works owned by museums, private collectors and auction houses filling up all its floors.
Seen from the street, the building’s treasures remain unnoticeable. There are no signs. On the ground floor, several over-sized elevator garage doors look shabby and careless. Museum directors, curators and private collectors come here to view art by appointment. The Warehouse Gallery for the Boris Lurie Art Foundation is housed on the 5th floor. The client, the art collector Gertrude Stein, asked for a space to show, store, organize and manage its collection: over 3,000 pieces by artist Boris Lurie. The program for the space included storage, restoration, archive, office and a showroom: a programmatic hybrid of an art storage and exhibition space. Boris Lurie (1924 –2008) was an American artist and writer. He co-founded the NO!Art movement which calls for art leading to social action. His controversial work has frequently irritated critics and curators and has sold poorly.
Lurie immigrated from Eastern Europe to New York in 1946 after having survived the Holocaust. These traumatizing experiences left a lasting impression on Boris Lurie’s life and art work. One of his best-known and most controversial works is Railroad Collage (1959), a collage of two photographs showing a pin-up girl undressing in the midst of corpses of gas chamber victims on a flatcar. Lurie co-founded the NO!Art movement which calls for art leading to social action. It set against Abstract Expressionism and Pop Art, but especially opposed to the economization of art and devoted to political issues such as racism, sexism, and consumerism. Pieces by Lurie are now contained in the permanent collections of the National Gallery of Art (Washington, D.C.), the Museum of Modern Art (New York) and was subject of a retrospectives at the University of Chicago and at the Whitney Museum of American Art (New York) among others. This summer, there was a large retrospective at the Jewish Museum in Berlin entitled “No Compromises! The Art of Boris Lurie”.
The idea for the architectural design was to create ‘‘a rigid, abstract space that contrasts with the expressive, at times aggressive content of the artworks it houses’’ as stated by the architect. Avoiding the “white-cube” concept of conventional gallery design, abstraction is achieved as a graphic, three-dimensional pattern of monumental, space dividing furniture built-ins in contrasting black and red, colors often used by the artist. The symmetry and rigidity of the plan layout obeys the rhythmic repetition of deep, long-span concrete beams of the existing, column-free space.
The structural module defines the interior organization. The space is divided into three programmatic sections: entry/office, art storage/display and restoration/packing. Floor-to-ceiling, Judd-like “storage towers” are custom-designed to fit the range, size and types of art works: paintings, collages, sculptures and drawings on flat files, vertical shelves, drawers and rolls. Metal mesh storage racks seemingly “float” across the space hiding the attachment rails between the deep concrete beams. The racks are used for larger paintings and art works to be displayed and pre-selected for shows. Parking the sliding racks in different configurations within the space allows for a customized circulation pattern depending on curatorial preference. The alignment and repetition of storage towers, racks and beams reinforce the visual effect of spatial depth and perspective.
Boris Lurie Art Foundation, New York
Programme: art gallery and archive
Design: Julian von der Schulenburg