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A Surfeit of Space: the Francis J Greenburger Collection
by Natalie Hegert


There are many different types of art collectors: there are those who buy as investments and populate the halls of Christie’s and Sotheby’s; those who buy art to match their furniture; those who vicariously live through the artists whose works they collect; those who collect privately yet loan profusely; those whose collections are known worldwide and housed in their own foundations; and many others.

The Francis J Greenburger Collection (the FJGC) reflects over thirty years of serious collecting. Yet the collection itself is but one facet in Greenburger’s art enterprise. You see, Francis Greenburger is the type of collector who not only collects, but finds ways to provide space and opportunities for artists. In fact, perhaps a better way to put it, he has a surfeit of space available, which he then translates into opportunities for artists.

In the lobby of Time Equities Inc. 5th Avenue offices there is  a truly eye-catching work by Jay Shinn. I’d like to say it took advantage of corner of the lobby, but in truth there is no corner there, rather a curved wall situated opposite the concierge. Yet the work seemed to create a corner where there was none—a bright, radiant corner. It was as if a painting, with bright pink and white hues, was folded onto the wall, or rather as if the wall had folded into itself. The illusion was due to the use of projected light onto the surface of the painted wall; the paint and the light in tandem create the effect, subtle yet striking.

I was in the lobby of the Time Equities Inc. offices because I had an appointment with Jennie Lamensdorf, the curator of the FJGC. Walking through the offices I came across many more works of art from the collection: paintings, photographs and drawings, to which she introduced me as we passed by. Lamensdorf’s job description reflects the many facets of Greenburger’s art initiatives: in addition to being the curator of the Greenburger collection, she also heads the Time Equities Inc. Art-in-Buildings program, and serves on the board of Art Omi, a residency at the Omi International Arts Center in Ghent, NY. Mostly though, she spends her time thinking about space, and researching and finding art to populate space.

Dominique Paul, installation view, Insects of Surinam 19, West 10th Window, 223-225 West 10th Street; Courtesy of the artist.

 

The surfeit of space available to Francis Greenburger is owed to his primary business as a real estate developer. Time Equities Inc. owns properties far and wide, and many of them contain “semi-public” spaces such as lobbies, corridors, window spaces, etc. The Art-in-Buildings initiative transforms these spaces into galleries featuring rotating exhibitions, site-specific installations, and opening celebrations. For instance, there are currently four projects on view in New York City: Jay Shinn’s commission for the lobby of the Time Equities Inc. offices, a storefront window installation by Montreal-based Dominique Paul in the West Village, and two exhibitions at 125 Maiden Lane, a site-responsive hanging sculpture by Carolyn Salas and two new sculptures by Allen Glatter.

Art in corporate lobbies is nothing new; in fact there is a certain disdain held for the so-called “corporate art” genre, usually comprising benign, contentless, vapid abstract paintings and sculpture. Lamensdorf, however, though conceding that she does have the residents and users of buildings in mind when selecting art for their semi-public spaces, doesn’t shy away from commissioning art with political overtones or challenging mediums. “I have a lot of respect for our audience,” she says, “and I am continually finding that the reception of works of art that I think might stir up some controversy are the best-loved works.” The difference in the Art-in-Buildings program is Lamensdorf herself: most offices don’t employ a full-time curator. And certainly while this “touch of art” increases the prestige factor of Time Equities Inc.’s properties, the program also serves to increase exposure for the artists and expand the audience for art. Art is certainly an investment for Greenburger, but not in the usual sense; in fact, he’s never sold a work of art from his collection.

Another result of Greenburger’s surfeit of space is the non-profit Omi International Art Center in upstate New York, where Lamensdorf is on the board. In the 1990’s Greenburger had served on the board of the Triangle Art Workshop with Tony Caro, but splintered from the group, and founded a new art residency in 1992 in Columbia County, New York. Omi International Art Center now runs year-round, occupies over 400 acres and includes residencies in the visual arts, dance, music, and writing, as well as Architecture Omi, an experimental architecture program, education programs for children and teens, and the 80-acre Fields Sculpture Park. The overarching principle of the residencies is to promote diversity and international exchange. Residents come from all over the globe to experiment and collaborate. Works by many Art Omi alumni end up in the Greenburger collection or appear in Art-in-Buildings spaces, and as Lamensdorf explains, “the Art Omi residency fosters a very close community and we’re committed to support the careers of our alumni.”

Dominique Paul, installation view, Insects of Surinam 19, West 10th Window, 223-225 West 10th Street; Courtesy of the artist.

 

If the residency and the Art-in-Buildings programs wasn’t enough, Greenburger also founded the Francis J. Greenburger Awards, which celebrates the lifetime achievements of artists whose contributions to the arts have not been recognized fully within the art world. The awards reflect Greenburger’s desire to support not just emerging artists (many of whom have gone on to illustrious careers), but to support underrepresented late career artists.

Greenburger, like many other collectors, discovered his love for art by being in proximity to artists, but wanted to support the arts beyond just collecting it. Utilizing his real estate holdings as a platform to increase exposure and expand audiences for art, his unique approach to supporting the arts can be summed up in one maxim: take advantage of what you have to support what you love. Lamensdorf told me that she’s “lucky to work with Francis in this capacity, because [art is] what he loves, not what he does.”

 

 

(Image on top: Jay Shinn, Doublerama, 55 5th Avenue; Courtesy the artist.)



Posted by Natalie Hegert on 8/13/13 | tags: installation mixed-media collector's catalogue curator Collection collector Residency

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