LOCAL PROFILES: Hal Bromm (Hal Bromm Gallery) (10.25.17)
Tribeca is known for its incredible art scene, but it wasn’t always this way. Thanks to pioneers like Hal Bromm, who moved to Beach Street in the early ‘70s and opened his gallery in 1975, Tribeca has blossomed into quite the artistic haven.
We spoke with Hal to learn more about his impact on the neighborhood’s evolution, and about his landmark gallery.
Tell us about the history of Hal Bromm...
When I moved to Beach Street in the early ‘70s, Soho barely had a name, and no one knew where Beach Street was. To me all that seemed perfect. Having lived in Fort Greene, I was used to being slightly out of reach and a bit independent.
Back then this area was known as the Washington Market, and until the end of the 1960s - hen it wholesale food merchants oved to the Bron - i was New York's equivalent to Les Halles and Covent Garden. The beautiful soaring market spaces were inspiring but sadly those glorious structures were demolished; the surviving buildings we know and love today were largely abandoned. The tragedy of that era was caught by Danny Lyon’s poignant photographs in his 1969 book The Destruction of Lower Manhattan, documenting the large-scale demolition that took place in 1967.
My gallery career began in 1975 hen I returned to NY after several years of design work in London. On arrival there, David Hockney had introduced me to film maker Derek Jarman and his circle of talented friends. Before heading to the US, I convinced Derek, Gerald Incandela, Duggie Fields, Andrew Logan (who had just created a sensation with Biba's Roof Garden), Luciana Martinez, Richard Wentworth, Peter Logan and a few others to give me pieces. Andrew’s mirrored sculpture of a hand holding a bird included a wry text: “A bird in the hand in New York is worth two in the bush in London”.
A proper gallery space at 114 Franklin opened in 1976 with New York friends Lucio Pozzi, Richard Nonas, Suzanne Harris, Jene Highstein and Susanna Tanger creating site works in the still-unfinished loft. Our next door neighbor was Franklin Furnace, newly opened by Martha Wilson and Willoughby Sharp.
When the gallery moved south to our present location at 90 West Broadway, an international group of artists were invited to create works for a two-part exhibition about movement and relocation: MOVING. (I still love the catalogue with letters from all the artists and documentation of their works).
The gallery focused on emerging American and European contemporary art, and was invited to participate in Arte Fiera in Bologna, the annual fair organized by Arturo Schwarz, an influential Italian art historian and curator. He included an international array of adventurous art dealers to present cutting-edge works, and the fair became an important venue for cooperation between galleries (in a pre-internet age). In 1979 Massimo Minini presented works here by Merz, Paolini, Boetti, Icaro and Zaza long before they were well-known.
Those fairs led to others in Basel, Zurich and Navy Pier in Chicago, and exhibitions featuring Dutch, English, French and Italian artists through exchanges with other galleries.
Among many who had early exposure were Alice Adams, Troy Brauntuch, Rosemarie Castoro, Mac Adams, Dan Graham, Jody Pinto, David Salle, Roger Cutforth, John Hilliard, Linda Francis, Robert Longo, Jeff Wall and Joe Zucker. Keith Haring's first one-person exhibition in New York took place here in 1981. Mary Boone guest-curated a show before opening her own gallery. French artist Andre Cadere, who tragically died before our planned show in 1978, was honored with a memorial exhibition that featured works lent by David Bourdon, Jean Claude and Christo, Bob Ryman and Merrill Wagner, and many other by New York artists who had collected his wonderful batons.
What makes your gallery so unique?
Art has a wonderful way of bringing people together, and many collectors enjoy the relationship that comes with discovering an artist's work early and following the work and collecting over many years as an artist’s work evolves and develops. The art we show often reflects work that I’d like to collect, with a focus on emerging artists and new talent, so I’ve often supported artists early in their careers. Many gallerists collect works they show, and in a way your gallery and your own collection might reflect each other. But today cultivating and supporting artists at the beginning isn’t always the business model that was followed by many of us years ago. Representing successful artists well-advanced in their careers is now the name of the game.
What upcoming exhibits do you have?
Rosemarie Castoro's exhibition ON PAPER, featuring beautiful works from the 1960s and 70s, just opened. It was also Tribeca Art Night, featuring over 25 area galleries, so that brought lots of new visitors to the neighborhood. Jennifer Famery-Mariani does a great job promoting our neighborhood’s cultural resources!
Castoro’s work – including several very early pieces originally shown here - will be featured next month in a major retrospective at Barcelona’s contemporary arts museum (MACBA) and I look forward to being there for the opening.
On November 21st we will present an historic collection of LUCIO POZZI works spanning the years from our first show together in 1976 all the way through 2017. Pozzi’s RELOCATIONS are works that play with color and form - cut, reconfigured, relocated and re-presented. They are playful, magical pieces that show the master’s hand in an understated manner. The show will offer an intimate illustration of how Lucio’s art has expanded and yet stayed constant at the same time, a reflection on our long-term work together.
What else should locals know about Hal Bromm Gallery?
Another focus is assisting collectors discover their own taste. Forming and living with collections is often easier that knowing how to begin to develop a sensibility that reflects what you really love, and allowing that interest to grow without undue pressure from the marketplace. Often people starting out are not confident in their sense of style or focus. Rather than dictate what is desirable, we like to help collectors gain confidence in their own sensibilities and judgement so that their collecting reflects their vision, rather than what they think they should collect. It is also nice to meet clients outside of normal hours for a glass of wine. Living near the gallery makes it a pleasure to meet collectors on their own time to get beyond business a bit.
What is your favorite aspect of owning a business below Canal Street?
To have watched the neighborhood develop over the last four decades has been fascinating as both a resident and business owner. Even though we established another branch of the gallery in the East Village, we never left Tribeca.
This place really feels like home, and many of the artists who were neighbors early on worked together to save the great mercantile architecture. In the 80’s Edward Albee, Jim Rosenquist and Bob DeNiro supported our effort to preserve Tribeca. Many artists supported that work by contributing to benefit auctions and their generosity was humbling. With Margot Gayle’s inspiration we were able to honor James Bogardus at the small garden that transformed a concrete traffic island into what Tory Weil and her team will now expand to even greater beauty. It is wonderful that Tribeca’s historic renaissance has become a national model of adaptive reuse, and that my business here has been a small part of that.
That success has brought Tribeca an incredibly diverse and very talented mix of newer residents, designers and people in the arts. The Hort family has created an inspiring presence with their work supporting artists, Lynn Ellsworth and the Tribeca Trust board have built a new sense of community to protect what is left of the area’s historic character as we are increasingly surrounded by tall out-of-context towers, and new publications like Tribeca Citizen and Life Below Canal do a great job of keeping us all on the same page.
What are your favorite spots below Canal Street?
Apart from all the galleries moving here, the facilities and pools at Stuyvesant, BMCC and Manhattan Youth are terrific. The vast array of wonderful places to dine....Odeon is a nearby favorite, quite an original when it opened and consistently rewarding. David Bouley’s early ventures brought dining here to another level. His wonderful Bouley Bakery is sadly missed but now we have Arcade and Grandaisy, Nish Nush’s Middle Eastern lunches, Tiny's great upstairs bar, Laughing Man Coffee and Duane Park Patisserie, Kaffe on Greenwich and so many more…and the list just keep growing!
Photo credit Jane Wesman, Jane Wesman Public Relations