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When you think about it, there is an amazing consortium now of artists’ foundations, artist/family foundations. That is a source of continuity.
—Mimi Gross
Hunter O’Hanian: Hi. I’m Hunter O’Hanian. I’m the director of the College Art Association, and I’m very fortunate to be here today with Mimi Gross. Hello, Mimi.
Mimi Gross: Hi.
Hunter O’Hanian: Thank you.
Mimi Gross: Glad to be together.
Hunter O’Hanian: Thank you, yes. And it’s been nice to catch up about our time in Provincetown together.
Mimi Gross: Yeah.
Hunter O’Hanian: We have spent a lot of time there.
Mimi Gross: We do.
Hunter O’Hanian: But thank you very much for inviting us into the home of the Foundation, the foundation that was set up by your parents. And it’s really amazing, and we’re going to get to talk about lots of that stuff.
Mimi Gross: Right.
Hunter O’Hanian: But so our viewers actually see what’s going on, can we talk a little bit about the pieces of artwork over my head here?
Mimi Gross: Oh, of course. Very happily.
Hunter O’Hanian: Yep.
Mimi Gross: So we start, this is by Mane-Katz.
Hunter O’Hanian: Yep.
Mimi Gross: Who was a great, shall we say, French-Israeli-American painter, and it’s a Purim Boy. It’s a Milton Avery above it, Woman in Blue. Next to it, this is by Orozco, Mexican master. This is by Louise Nevelson when she was very young, and she was my father’s student. This is by Marsden Hartley.
Hunter O’Hanian: You said I could take this one home, right?
Mimi Gross: Well, you might try. We might catch you at the door.
Hunter O’Hanian: I saw you had good security here, so …
Mimi Gross: Yeah, we do.

Above it is Francis Crisp. He was a great painter. The two dark men, that surreal painting is by Federico Castellón, a Spanish American painter. Below it is by John Metzinger, a great friend of Leger and strangely, post-modern today. Above is by Raphael Sawyer. I don’t know how far you go, but next to it is Louis Guglielmi. He was a Great Depression painter.

Hunter O’Hanian: Where in the house did your parents … Your dad worked, right?
Mimi Gross: Yes.
Hunter O’Hanian: Tell us a little bit about your father’s career.
Mimi Gross: His career?
Hunter O’Hanian: Yeah.
Mimi Gross: He was a carver. That was his prime interest in his artwork. He came to America as a teenager at age 17 and went to the Education Alliance and studied there and then taught there. He studied with Elie Nadelman. He studied with Robert Laurent. Before that, he started as a painter and John Sloan was his teacher and saw his drawings were very dimensional and said, “Why don’t you try studying sculpture?” He took to it immediately, and that was his love …
Mimi Gross: Which continued throughout his life.
Hunter O’Hanian: The building that we’re in now on La Guardia Place, how long did your parents have this building?
Mimi Gross: They got it in ‘62, ‘63 when they moved in, and they were looking for a place that would be a permanent home for his work and for his collection. I grew up in Harlem at my home had all these things in it, but not this building. He always had a studio in the village. That was his territory.
Hunter O’Hanian: Was your mom a maker as well, too?
Mimi Gross: She took care of everyone.
Hunter O’Hanian: Did she? Good for her. She was probably one of the busiest people in the household.
Mimi Gross: She was very busy.
Hunter O’Hanian: You said you grew up in Harlem. Tell us a little bit about your education.
Mimi Gross: School of hard knocks. I went to high school music and art and then to Bard College. After two years I went to Europe and spent several years there. That was a major part of my education.
Hunter O’Hanian: What was that like growing up with an artist family? Who was coming around the house in those days? Who were your parents chumming around with?
Mimi Gross: My other father was Raphael Sawyer, and I posed for him a lot and got to know him very close. Milton Avery who also came to Provincetown and knew him in the summertime.
Hunter O’Hanian: Right. You spent summers in Provincetown?
Mimi Gross: Since I was a little girl.
Mimi Gross: And still do.
Hunter O’Hanian: One of the reasons why we’re here is to talk about this Spring/Summer issue of the Art Journal, which really talks about artist legacies. You have a great piece in here on page 129, which really talks about the legacy of your parents and the Gross Foundation here, and so we’ll get into some of that, but what brought your family to Provincetown?
Mimi Gross: That’s actually a sensitive subject.
Hunter O’Hanian: Oh.
Mimi Gross: First of all, it’s a artist colony as it’s known, they had spent several summers in Rockport on Cape Ann, which also is an artist colony.
Hunter O’Hanian: In Massachusetts?
Mimi Gross: In Massachusetts came that period before World War II started. World War II started and anti-Semitism was very wide-spread in New England. They heard that Provincetown was liberal, which it still is, or it’s maybe not as liberal as it once was. It was a Portuguese fishing village. It was unlike general New England, so they migrated there and loved it, stayed.
Hunter O’Hanian: Your family ended up having a house there, and that’s how you ended up being able to go every summer?
Mimi Gross: Yep.
Hunter O’Hanian: You were trained as an artist yourself. There’s the lovely picture of you at the beach making a painting. Tell us a little bit about your artistic career.
Mimi Gross: My career itself?
Hunter O’Hanian: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Mimi Gross: It’s what we’d call the bumpy road to somewhere. I’ve had several, you could call it emerging moments, where there was a notoriety of a sort, but I’ve been working since I’m a teenager very seriously as a painter. I’ve worked with many materials, mainly to paint them. That’s been my quest in life. I’m a figurative painter, but I’ve tried many different things. I’ve done a lot of costumes and sets for dance, in particular, Douglas Dunn. When I was married, we did a lot of movies with animation. That was a lot of artwork as well.
Hunter O’Hanian: You were married-
Mimi Gross: My career in terms of gallery life, I showed with several different galleries which closed, so right now I don’t have any gallery, though I had two shows very recently, this spring.
Hunter O’Hanian: Right, and you were married to Red Grooms, as you said?
Mimi Gross: Yes.
Hunter O’Hanian: Yes, and you had several children with Red?
Mimi Gross: One daughter, Saskia.
Hunter O’Hanian: Yeah, wonderful. Great.
Mimi Gross: And two granddaughters.
Hunter O’Hanian: You and Red made films together?
Mimi Gross: We did. Many films.
Hunter O’Hanian: You collaborated on other projects, too?
Mimi Gross: Yes, we collaborated on very large, walk-through installations that he called pictosculptoramas. They were gigantically room-sized.
Hunter O’Hanian: Right. Your parents over the year…. Certainly your father was incredibly prolific, and you have been very prolific as an artist. Through your relationships you’ve gathered a lot of work, traded it with other artists. I read that there was possibly 10,000 objects that you have at this point.
Mimi Gross: In this house.
Hunter O’Hanian: In this house.
Mimi Gross: I don’t have that many objects.
Hunter O’Hanian: No, no, but I mean in-
Mimi Gross: But my parents were, they were serious collectors. The African art collection is, in itself, multiple objects.
Hunter O’Hanian: The question always comes up then about, for people who are art makers or collectors, what happens to that work? And what is-
Mimi Gross: Good luck.
Hunter O’Hanian: Yeah. Good luck, right, an artist’s legacy going forward. What do you say about that?
Mimi Gross: When I was asked to write this article, at first I said, “Oh, sure,” thinking that it was not a difficult answer, knowing that we made this foundation, but when I really thought about it, I realized that my own life and work was something that I had not particularly addressed, as well as the works I did with Red when we collaborated and we both own. It was complicated and difficult to actually freely write it.

I would say that in terms of how an artist who has objects, how they deal with it, it has a lot to do with their own reputation, their own finances and their own ambitions, and their support. All of these things make it work or not work.

My father would say things like, “Oh, I have a daughter that will take care of it,” so I think my granddaughters, maybe they’ll help. There’s no way of knowing, but the finances are gigantic issue, and even here where we have all of this work and a fantastic building, it still is the main issue is fundraising.

Hunter O’Hanian: Right. Again, we’re here at La Guardia Place in The Village in New York. People can actually come and see the work.
Mimi Gross: Oh, yes.
Hunter O’Hanian: They can contact the foundation to make an appointment and have a docent led tour.
Mimi Gross: It’s open to the public.
Hunter O’Hanian: Which is great.

When I was asked to write this article, at first I said, “Oh, sure,” thinking that it was not a difficult answer, knowing that we made this foundation, but when I really thought about it, I realized that my own life and work was something that I had not particularly addressed…. It was complicated and difficult to actually freely write it.
—Mimi Gross
Mimi Gross: We were well-situated here. I say “we” because I helped my parents get this together. Well-situated when Soho was extremely active as an art center, so people were visiting galleries, and then they knew my father or they heard about him and they would drop by and visit. That evolved that way, but today it’s not an art center, though there are several pockets of places here. There is a consortium with the various places that are still in the neighborhood, but because it’s still easily located near Washington Square and near the subways, people come by.

We have about 5,000 people come here a year. Then we’ve been part of Open House New York and in one weekend have over 1,000 people come. We’re part of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, so all of that’s part of this particular foundation.

Hunter O’Hanian: The foundation was set up by your father.
Mimi Gross: No, by his friends.
Hunter O’Hanian: By his friends? So-
Mimi Gross: They did it as a birthday present at one point.
Hunter O’Hanian: While he was still alive they set up the foundation?
Mimi Gross: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Hunter O’Hanian: Did he set the original mission for the foundation when they set it up or …
Mimi Gross: No, he actually … He was modest. It was done around him.
Hunter O’Hanian: Yeah. Yeah, so it was done around, it was his friends, basically, who got together who decided that …
Mimi Gross: Yeah.
Hunter O’Hanian: I think I read that he thought, oh, maybe it might last 10 years or so, or 20 years.
Mimi Gross: He went like this. Yeah.

We tried to make a gift to, of course, NYU, since they’re neighbors. They own the building next door, for example. We went to City College and Pace College, to the new school, to Yale University. There was quite a few genuine almosts, but he offered the building with everything in it, but without the millions of dollars that are needed to keep it going, and so in the end a friend said, “Why don’t you just make your own place?”

In Europe, it’s very, very common for a home and a studio to be that artist’s resting place for people to visit, so it was based on that.

Hunter O’Hanian: We don’t see so much of that in the United States.
Mimi Gross: Famously, the Delacriox home and studio that people come to visit in Paris.
Hunter O’Hanian: Sure, sure. Some of the conversations that your family had with the institutions in the area, they were hopeful in the beginning, but then it didn’t resolve?
Mimi Gross: Exactly. It took a lot of time.
Hunter O’Hanian: What do you envision will happen to all this work 50 years or 100 years from now?
Mimi Gross: I don’t. It’s way beyond my envisioning.
Hunter O’Hanian: Really? Yeah.
Mimi Gross: I do believe some of it will remain. It’s just there’s no way of knowing what will happen to any of us in 50 or 100 years.
Hunter O’Hanian: Of course, of course.
Mimi Gross: It’s a very big question mark. First of all, we might be underwater.
Hunter O’Hanian: In this part of New York.
Mimi Gross: I hope not. Our future director, hopefully, will be a fundraising person. Hopefully, that will … He does believe in the sustainability. He does believe that we will continue, and with that in mind, hopefully, we’ll have classes, more visitation, and more of a educational outreach. I think that will help sustain here.
Hunter O’Hanian: If you were to give advice, now that you’ve spent so much time doing this, but if you were to give advice to artists in their 40’s, 50’s, or 60’s who are thinking about their legacy and what will happen to all that work, what kind of advice would you give them?
Mimi Gross: I think again it has a lot to do with their reputation in public, their finances, their affiliation with a professional gallery or whatever that way. When you think about it, there is an amazing consortium now of artists’ foundations, artist/family foundations. That is a source of continuity. It’s great. Charles Duncan from the Archives of American Art is the head of it. There has been several meetings. The Aspen Papers have been published on bylaws for a foundation. It’s not a totally easy thing to do, but it’s also not impossible. If you have the work and you want to preserve it, it’s one way to do that. Another is to make gifts to the many, many university museums, small museums all over the country that are eager to increase their collections.
Hunter O’Hanian: Do you work to try to place some of your father’s work in those museums and] collections?
Mimi Gross: I’ve started to. Yes.
Hunter O’Hanian: Yeah. Do you find that to be valuable?
Mimi Gross: Beyond valuable. There’s now a sculpture that I gave to the Metropolitan Museum that’s on display …
Hunter O’Hanian: Fabulous.
Mimi Gross: Between the Edward Hopper and Charles Demieux.
Hunter O’Hanian: Oh, my god. How wonderful is that?
Mimi Gross: Yeah, it was thrilling.
Hunter O’Hanian: Also, we were talking earlier, you have three staff people.
Mimi Gross: Correct.
Hunter O’Hanian: Or you will with your new director here, but just the idea of keeping track of all of this work and where it is, particularly with a prolific artist like your father, it must be a mind-boggling task.
Mimi Gross: Fortunately, we’ve had really great interns, really great work. Then we’re also, we’re pioneers if you compare us to other foundations that are much younger. Basically, everything here has been inventoried, although new things are always being found. Last week my granddaughter found a whole bunch of new things that were not discovered before.
Hunter O’Hanian: Wow. You would have thought by this time you would have opened up all the drawers in the …
Mimi Gross: Yeah, you’d think.
Hunter O’Hanian: That’s great. I hope we get to see you at a college art association conference. Maybe we can even bring some people who come to the conference here.
Mimi Gross: I would really urge you to bring guests here and be part of your organization.
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