Good Works Everywhere … Even the Office

by Aruna D’Souza
Related Stories:
Shining a Light

Art Connects New York and curator Peter Gynd bring a vibrant collection of site-specific contemporary artworks to Foundation Center’s New York headquarters

Works on Paper, Mixed Media, Katya Grokhovsky, 2014–16 Katya Grokhovsky’s art spans painting, drawing, sculpture, installation, performance, photography, text, and video. “Collage” seems to be the underlying and unifying theme of her diverse practice, a way to make sense both of the hybrid nature of her immigrant identity (which has taken her from Ukraine to Australia to Chicago to New York) and the various ways in which pop culture and media shape our sense of self. These works on paper combine photographic images, painting, and drawn elements to reflect on the body, sexuality, and gender identity. (Photos: Courtesy of the artist)

Not much can compete with the sweeping views of New York City from the windows of Foundation Center’s New York City offices — except for the art that hangs on its walls. In collaboration with Art Connects New York, an organization devoted to bringing art into nonprofit spaces around the city, the Center’s offices feature a permanent exhibition of the work of nine artists.

The show, titled Connections, was executed by Peter Gynd, an independent curator tapped specifically for this project by Art Connects. According to Stuart Anthony, executive director of Art Connects, a different curator is chosen for each project it undertakes. “By working with lots of independent curators, we can bring fresh voices into our conversations and include a much wider range of artists than if we were relying on a single, in-house person.”

Mama’s Clothes, Keisha Scarville, 2016 Keisha Scarville’s photographs, are part of Foundation Center’s permanent exhibition, Connections, which reflects on the larger mission of the organization. Scarville creates paradoxical self-portraits — paradoxical because instead of revealing herself, she is covered and obscured by her mother’s clothes. Moving between landscapes in the New York area and her ancestral homeland, Guyana, these images are both deeply personal, evoking Scarville’s relationship to family and her past, and universal, speaking to the experience of being an immigrant, part of a diaspora in which the question of belonging is deeply complicated. (Photos: Courtesy of the artist)

For Foundation Center, Gynd sought out artists as diverse as the constituencies the Center serves — in terms of media, artistic approach, and cultural experience. “I wanted to bring in work by artists who are involved in the broader cultural dialogue, works that you might not expect to see in a corporate environment,” he explains.

“Usually, in an office setting, you find framed work hung on the walls,” Gynd explains. “But at Foundation Center, we were able to bring in work that activates the space in different ways.” The result is a collection that ranges from large-scale installations to sculptural wall reliefs to intimately sized collage — each chosen with a careful eye to its architectural setting and the people who visit and work there.

For example, the spaces used by members of the public needed to be warm and welcoming; Gynd commissioned a colorful yarn-based wall hanging to display above a long and inviting row of couches in the passageway that connects library and training center rooms, bringing, he says, a “human touch and sense of intimacy.” In their workspace, technology-focused staff members find echoes of the 3D-topographies of video game landscapes in delicately colored and layered collages by Ryan Sarah Murphy.

After getting to know the mission of Foundation Center, Gynd focused on the concept of transparency to guide his curatorial decisions, both by bringing New York City into the organization’s space and by reflecting on how the Center’s work extends back into the city. Some of the themes touched on by the collection include the economic and demographic transformations of the metropolis, the archaeological quality of materials discarded on city sidewalks, and immigration and diaspora as a transformative element of urban life.

All this was made possible by Art Connects, a 10-year-old entity that aims to enrich the lives of underserved New Yorkers by installing art in social services organizations throughout the city. Since its founding, Art Connects estimates it has touched the lives of 125,000 constituents in all five boroughs, with projects at over 40 organizations serving youth and teens, at-risk women, low-income residents and recent immigrants, the disabled, the homeless, and others. All the artwork is donated by “New York City artists giving back to New York City,” says Anthony.

For Anthony, the opportunity to assist Foundation Center form its collection was welcome. “Foundation Center isn’t like most of our other projects,” he says. “But the fact is that it serves all of our constituencies, at a remove. Every one of the social services organizations we’ve worked with has relied on the resources the Center provides. Including Art Connects, I might add.”

“They could have easily hired a private art consultant to fill their walls with art,” he laughs. “But they didn’t want to go that route. They wanted to engage a community partner, because that’s what they do. You can’t get more mission-centric than that.”

Aruna D’Souza is a writer based in western Massachusetts. Her essays and articles on art, culture, food, and books have appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Bookforum, CNN.com, Time Out New York, Garage, and other publications. She is a regular contributor to and member of the advisory board of 4Columns. arunadsouza.com

Related Stories: Shining a Light (Feature)

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