Mostly New: Selections from the NYU Art Collection presents modern and contemporary artworks, the majority of which have entered the New York University Art Collection over the last decade.
The founding of the NYU Art Collection followed A. E. Gallatin’s Gallery (later, Museum) of Living Art, which operated from 1927 until 1942 in the same space the Grey currently occupies. As the first American institution to exhibit living artists, Gallatin’s Museum provided an important forum for contemporary visual expression and access to original works for NYU students. Initiated in 1958, the NYU Art Collection grew quickly through the mid-1960s, with many sculptures, drawings, prints, and photographs installed throughout the campus. In 1975 Abby Weed Grey donated some 700 works from the Middle East and Asia dating primarily from the 1960s—a magnanimous contribution that also established the Grey Art Gallery as NYU’s fine arts museum. The collection will again expand significantly with Dr. James Cottrell and Joseph Lovett’s promised gift of approximately 200 artworks—a number of which are on view here—by downtown New York artists.
Today, the collection comprises over 6,000 objects, and Mostly New highlights several of its strengths. For nearly fifty years, the museum has built upon the foundation provided by Mrs. Grey’s gift to showcase both modern and contemporary artists from the Middle East. The originality and diversity of their practices are evident in examples here by Iranian artists Parviz Tanavoli and Shahpour Pouyan, who revisit their country’s long cultural traditions, and Shiva Ahmadi, who responds to the region’s recent geopolitical events. In keeping with the museum’s mission to record the rich history of downtown New York’s creative milieu, some of the many stylistic and social concerns that have animated its artists are illustrated in Grace Hartigan’s pathos-laden meditation on gender and celebrity; Mary Heilmann’s eccentric take on geometric abstraction; and Glenn Ligon’sexploration of the Black experience. Suggesting the breadth of the collection’s holdings of photography—a fitting focus for a university that demonstrates great strengths in both the study and practice of this medium—Danny Lyon depicts the razing of Lower Manhattan neighborhoods where many artists had resided, while Aaron Siskind’s urban compositions are nearly nonfigurative and Ilse Bing’s images celebrate the handheld camera’s pictorial possibilities.
Even as COVID-19 forced the Grey to close its doors, staff continued the important work of caring for the collection and providing a home for art on NYU’s campus. These recent acquisitions and little-seen gems testify to the ongoing efforts to deepen a collection that augments the university’s educational commitment, inspires groundbreaking exhibitions and publications, and embraces the Grey’s role as Greenwich Village’s art museum.