Explore The Works of American Artists in Post WW II Paris at The Grey Art Museum

The Grey Art Museum located in NoHo is a freshly renovated and spacious museum that is worth a visit. It current exhibit examines the expats in Paris in the 1950s and 60s.

| 09 Apr 2024 | 06:24

During the COVID-19 pandemic, many museums in the city suffered financially. The galleries remained empty, with pieces on display but no eyes to admire them. Some are still recovering from the impact of the pandemic. During this period, the Grey Art Museum at New York University took advantage of the time to negotiate with a couple in SoHo, James Cottrell and Joseph Lovett, to acquire a collection of works from the 1980s. Now artworks from the collection are displayed at the museum along with the creation of a Cottrell-Lovett Gallery and the Cottrell-Lovett Study Center.

The Grey Art Museum, formerly known as The Grey Art Gallery, was housed within New York University’s Silver Center for almost 50 years. Before that, from 1927 to 1942, NYU’s fine art museum was called the A. E. Gallatin’s Museum of Living Art, the first in the US to showcase works by renowned artists such as Picasso and Mirò.

This year, for the first time since the pandemic, The Grey Museum has reopened its doors in a newly expanded and renovated space at 18 Cooper Square in the NoHo neighborhood. The inaugural exhibition for the reopening is a collection titled “Americans in Paris: Artists Working in Postwar France, 1946-1962,” which commenced on March 2, 2024, and will run until July 20, 2024.

Curated by independent scholar Debra Bricker Balken, in collaboration with Grey Museum Director Lynn Gumpert, the exhibition challenges assumptions about the post-World War II art scene, which often portrays Manhattan as the epicenter of artistic activity. Interestingly, many artists actually gravitated towards postwar France during this time. Featuring approximately 130 artworks including paintings, sculptures, photographs, films, textiles and works on paper by nearly 70 artists, the exhibition offers a nuanced perspective on the art created by American artists in France from the 1946 to 1962 period, a different approach as opposed to the conventional and contemporary New York Art Scene.

The exhibition is rich with intriguing facts and stories. It features the artwork of American GIs who studied in Paris under the GI Bill, which supported the education of former servicemen. These expatriates managed to live on a monthly stipend of $75, a surprisingly sufficient amount for postwar Paris, a circumstance that may seem unimaginable by today’s standards.

“One of the great things about our current exhibition is the film by Carmen De Vino called Vernissage, in which he films American GIs who are artists just going about their daily life in Paris and transporting paintings on a cart. It’s so fun to watch because you get a real sense of what was going on,” Museum director, Lynn Gumpert said

The museum’s reopening, especially with this exhibition, has been widely celebrated and serves as a nostalgic reflection of pre-pandemic life. “We’ve gotten so many positive comments across the board, both about the buildings, the building itself and the galleries, and also about the show,” Gumpert said.

Bringing this project to life has taken nearly seven years of hard work and dedication. “It’s putting together pieces of a puzzle and sometimes you have to find those pieces. So you’re looking for works of art and around a theme or a historical period. In this case, it’s the 1950s and 60s. We did a lot of research to find out where paintings were by American artists that they made while they lived in Paris,” said Gumpert. The exhibition is also accompanied by a 300-page catalog that includes musicians, filmmakers, and writers. She also acknowledged the contributions of interns and students’ work, which played a crucial role in the research for this project.

Gumpert and the exhibition team had to secure multiple grants to fund the project and draft loan requests to various museums willing to display the exhibition. After closing, the show will travel to the Addisonb Gallery of American Art in Andover, MA from Sept. 3 to Jan. 5, 2025 and then to the NYU Art Gallery in Abu Dhabi.

According to Gumpert, what distinguishes The Grey Museum is that it is not just a repository for fantastic artworks but also serves as an educational institution, promoting visual literacy and contributing to the ongoing legacy of art appreciation and support for quality artwork. “I know I was so pleased when I first was able to go back to museums. They can be sanctuaries, but they also can be provocative. They can show art and they can also be obviously educational. You can learn about new areas that you weren’t aware of,” Gumpert said.

As the skies clear and the sun brings the New Yorkers out, the museum, which welcomes visitors for free with a suggested $5 donation, offers a calming yet exciting adventure that is definitely worth a visit.