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A moment of stillness in Midtown: Bennington Legacy at Tower94 Gallery


A moment of stillness in Midtown: Bennington Legacy at Tower94 Gallery


New York’s art gallery hubs have fluctuated over the years, from Soho to Chelsea to the Lower East Side and Bushwick. As these neighborhoods flourish, so has art, creating a bevy of art centers dotting the city. Although these concentrations of galleries have improved the art-appreciating experience, it is sometimes nice to get out of the art comfort zone to its polar opposite- Midtown. The chaotic mix of office workers tourists clogging the sites in the area make it easy to miss the sometimes remarkable corporate collections and outdoor sculptures that adorn the lobbies and entryways of the many office buildings in the area - which are often closed to the public, but visible enough from the outside.

Amidst the congested streets and private buildings, Tower 49, a Skidmore, Owings & Merrill property, actually invites passerby into its lobby and sky lounge to enjoy their rotating exhibition of sculpture, paintings and drawings. The Tower 49 Gallery, curated and managed by Ai Kato,  may not seem like a space for art appreciation, but coupled with the calming marble lobby, killer view from the sky lounge and extremely friendly concierge, it can be a artful respite in the middle of Midtown. In the past, the gallery has hosted works by big names like Frank Stella, Mark Di Suvero and Shigeno Ichimura, and currently is home to Bennington Legacy: Sculpture by Willard, Boepple, Isaac Witkin and James Wolfe.

Bennington College has been fostered important artists for many decades, exhibiting   Barnett Newman and Jackson Pollock in the 1960s, inspiring alumni like Helen Frankenthaler, and passing knowledge to students through teachings of Paul Freely, Anthony Caro and Jules Olitski.  As a historic center for both art and creative thought, the college is celebrated at Tower49 with the work of three artists who have touched the Bennington community over the years, and who continue to be influenced themselves by the abstract modernist movement that thrived at the college.

Lining the perimeter of the stark marble lobby gallery, James Wolfe’s pieces enliven with subtle pops of color, joined by Issac Witkin’s stoic sculptures that evoke Calder’s stabiles, and Willard Boepple’s curvaceous machinery-inspired sculptural wall hangings. Understanding, and more importantly appreciating, 1960s abstract modernism is key for this exhibition. In some ways, the exhibition could be totally easy to miss, the pieces are not the over-the-top media explosions we are used to in our daily lives; instead they have a quiet harmony that require a focus, even if for just a moment.  With this in mind, if viewers do allow themselves an art time out, a subtle history of influence can be read in Wolfe, Witkin and Boepple’s pieces.

Personally, I was particularly drawn to Boepple’s work. On the ground floor, his sculptural pieces spoke to me of a myriad of influences, from the inner-workings of machinery to drill bits, the Louise Nevelson plaza in Lower Manhattan, sedimentary rock formations, the visual interplay of overlapping materials, and the floating orb Magritte was fond of painting. I can’t help but smile at the swirl of these thoughts that came to mind while standing in the lobby of a corporate building. Boepple’s work continues on the 24th floor Sky Lounge, a tiny space that overlooks the cresting skyscrapers of Midtown. Here, the artist’s interest in the interplay of overlapping materials is expressed in bold color in a series of framed Monoprints, each depicting the same crinkling geometric form.

In contrast to the active hustle of Midtown, Bennington Legacy begs the viewer to slow down, and allow themselves to experience the calming respite found in these three artists.

The exhibition continues to October 29th, 2015 and is open to the public.

The 24th floor - accessible with permission from the lobby concierge. WM



Lori Zimmer

Lori Zimmer is a writer based in New York City.

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