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American Folk Art Museum

Address & Phone Website Subway Admission Hours

45 West 53rd Street
New York, NY 10019
(212) 265-1040

www.folkartmuseum.org 1/9 to 66th St, A, B, C, or D to 59th St
Bus: M104, M7, M5, M66

FREE

Tues-Sun, 10am-6pm
Fri, 10am-8pm
Closed Mondays

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American Folk Art Museum OutsideAlthough the buildings were in poor condition and thus could not be used, they provided the basis for future development. Through the generosity of Ralph Esmerian, the principal contributor of funds toward this purchase, and other thoughtful members of the Board, the museum could now look forward to a home of its own. If the second decade began in doubt and uncertainty, it ended on a very high note, indeed.

The Third Decade, 1981–1991
When Gerard C. Wertkin joined the staff of the museum as assistant director in late 1980, it became clear that the building project was the principal order of the day. The museum began to devise plans for development on West 53rd Street, an effort that dominated its third decade. These plans were complicated by a series of zoning, tenant, and legal issues that absorbed the time and attention of the museum’s board and administration. To be sure, the museum continued to organize a full and varied schedule of exhibitions and educational programs. In 1981 the museum established a graduate program in folk art studies in conjunction with New York University, the first of its kind in the nation. The Folk Art Institute, an accredited program leading to a certificate in folk art studies, was initiated in 1985. The decade also witnessed impressive growth in the permanent collection, but the development of the museum’s future home took precedence over everything else.

American Folk Art Museum ExteriorThe museum presented its exhibitions at 49 West 53rd Street until 1984, when it opened handsome new facilities nearby in a former jazz museum and Rockefeller carriage house at 125 West 55th Street. This was a temporary move, an optimistic response to affirmative developments in the building program, intended in part to permit the properties on 53rd Street to be prepared for demolition. Under the terms of the lease covering the 55th Street galleries, the museum was required to vacate in 1986 (the building was subsequently razed).

Without galleries of its own for almost four years, the institution organized a remarkable series of exhibitions and educational programs by utilizing public spaces and corporate galleries and forming partnerships with other museums. In addition, the museum strengthened and extended its traveling exhibition program to institutions throughout the country. As of the end of the museum’s fourth decade, its exhibitions had been presented in no fewer than 150 museums and other venues in the United States and abroad, representing both a major public service and a professional affirmation of the merit of the museum’s programming.

While negotiations on the future of the museum’s properties on 53rd Street continued, the museum undertook the creation of branch exhibition facilities at Two Lincoln Square in Manhattan, on the ground floor of a multi-use building opposite Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. Occupied under a tripartite agreement with the owner of the premises and the City of New York, this former “public arcade” provided more expansive exhibition space than either of the institution’s prior galleries. It opened to great fanfare in 1989. Named for the renovation’s principal contributor and her late husband, the Eva and Morris Feld Gallery at Lincoln Square has supported a broad-based public program since it was opened.

Throughout the 1980s, the permanent collection continued to grow. In 1980, Bishop and Wertkin began a series of talks with Jean and Howard Lipman for the purchase of their collection of American folk art. As a result, the museum accessioned thirty-nine key works and sold the remainder at auction to fund the purchase. Headlines were made in 1984, when the museum acquired Ammi Phillips’s great masterpiece, Girl in Red Dress with Cat and Dog. Among other significant accessions during the museum’s third decade, Elizabeth Ross Johnson contributed a group of twentieth-century paintings and sculpture in 1985. The same year, Animal Carnival, Inc., through Trustee Elizabeth Wecter, transferred a collection of animal sculptures. Martin and Enid Packer’s collection of tenth-anniversary tin arrived in 1988, and in 1989 Margot Paul Ernst gave her woven coverlet collection in memory of Susan B. Ernst. That same year, an encyclopedic gathering of painted tinware and other objects, the gift of the Historical Society of Early American Decoration, also came to the institution.

American Folk Art Museum InteriorThe expected development of a multi-use building on six lots—upon which so much energy was expended during the decade—did not occur. The project had to be scuttled. That fact, and Bishop’s increasingly serious illness, cast a shadow over the end of the museum’s third decade. The museum’s thirtieth anniversary passed with little notice.

The Fourth Decade, 1991–2001
Robert Bishop died on September 22, 1991, and was deeply mourned by a wide circle of friends and professional associates. After serving as acting director during Bishop’s illness, Gerard C. Wertkin was appointed director of the museum in December of that year. His goals as director included a renewed focus on the building program, greater diversity in exhibitions and collections, more sustained use of the permanent collection, and a concentration on new scholarship. The board and staff entered a period of long-range planning and self-study to help prepare for the realization of these objectives.

Over the course of the first thirty years of its history, the museum’s programming was remarkably diverse—indeed, by its very nature the folk art field is multicultural —but diversity became even more of an emphasis in the 1990s. Major presentations of works by African American and Latino artists became a regular feature of the museum’s exhibition schedule and permanent collection. In 1991, a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts funded the purchase of an important collection of contemporary African American quilts.

In 1993 the museum rededicated the south wing of the Eva and Morris Feld Gallery at Lincoln Square as the Daniel Cowin Permanent Collection Gallery, so named in memory of a deeply respected trustee. In 1998 the museum established The Contemporary Center, a division of the institution devoted entirely to the collection and exhibition of the paintings, sculpture, and installations of twentieth- and now twenty-first century self-taught artists. Its formation prompted the gifts to the museum of important works by twentieth-century self-taught artists from M. Anne Hill and Edward Vermont Blanchard, Sam and Betsey Farber, and David Davies. In 2001, The Contemporary Center announced the acquisition, by purchase and by gift, of twenty-four works by the great Chicago artist Henry Darger, as well as a huge archive of Darger’s manuscript books, tracings, drawings, and source materials.

American Folk Art MuseumAmerican Folk Art Museum image1

Although the Eva and Morris Feld Gallery greatly improved its capacity to serve the public in the 1990s, the museum persisted in its efforts to create a permanent home and determined to develop a new building on the lots at 45 and 47 West 53rd Street. The museum’s trustees commissioned the internationally recognized architectural team of Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects LLP to design a 30,000-square-foot structure on the two lots, and they announced the commencement of a $34.5 million Capital Campaign to underwrite the costs of construction and the establishment of an endowment.

Known initially as the Museum of Early American Folk Arts, the institution adopted a more inclusive name in 1966; as the Museum of American Folk Art, it established a reputation for examining virtually every aspect of the folk arts in America. In 2001 the museum chose its new name, the American Folk Art Museum, as an expression of a further extension of mission. In anticipation of the opening of the museum’s new home, many thoughtful donors gave or promised highly important objects in virtually every medium for the permanent collection. Indeed, the growth of the permanent collection was a striking feature of the 1990s. The most significant gift comprises more than four hundred works of art representing the heart of Ralph Esmerian’s folk art collection.

American Folk Art Museum Map 

 
 

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