In the 1970s and 1980s, quite a few abandoned synagogues on the Lower East Side were taken over by artists, who repurposed the often crumbling buildings as quirky studio and living spaces. At 87 Eldridge St., the public now has the opportunity to see the work of an especially renowned local artist, but also to experience the inside of one of these converted shuls.
While the Milton Resnick and Pat Passlof Foundation won’t formally open its exhibition halls until September, anyone is welcome to visit on Thursdays and Fridays throughout the summer. We stopped by for a media tour this past week.
Resnick and Passlof, Abstract Expressionist painters, were married for 40 years, but lived and worked in separate synagogue buildings a few blocks apart. Following Passlof’s death in 2011, her home/studio at 80 Forsyth St. was sold for $6.2 million, most of the proceeds being used by the foundation to renovate the Eldridge Street building and turn it into a museum.
The painstaking project was handled by Ryall Sheridan Architects. The building, located just below Grand Street, was largely untouched since 2004, when Resnick took his own life at the age of 87. The property, which is not a city landmark, dates to about 1890 and became a synagogue in the early part of the 20th Century. Resnick bought it in 1976. The tenement has been modernized with an elevator, museum-standard climate control and even an 18-foot-long hatch in the floor to accommodate installation of Resnick’s largest paintings. Two beautiful 20+ foot high rose windows in the front of the building have been restored.
The foundation is dedicated to preserving and studying the works of Resnick and Passlof, as well as showcasing the works of other artists influenced by the Abstract Expressionist movement. There are plans to host poetry readings, talks and performances, as a press release explains, “bearing witness to a particularly fertile creative period in New York City that the artists were active in…”
The opening exhibition is a retrospective, “Milton Resnick Paintings 1937-1987.” Spread across three floors of the museum, it includes works in the foundation’s collection as well as paintings on loan from private collections. Resnick’s last studio, a small closet-sized room on the third floor, has been restored. It features works on paper, completed during the last years of Resnick’s life (this part of the museum can only be viewed by appointment). A Pat Passlof retrospective will take place in 2019.
Resnick and Passlof were introduced by Willem de Kooning in 1948. Resnick biographer Geoffrey Dorfman (he also curated the current exhibition) has noted that Passlof, “believed she had married the great artist of the second half of the 20th century.” In an interview this past spring with the New York Times, Dorfman added, “Milton and Pat were idealistic people on a great artistic adventure. They thought of themselves as revolutionaries, really.”
In July and August you can visit the museum on Thursdays and Fridays from 11 a.m.-6 p.m. A grand opening celebration will take place Sept. 15 and 16. More information about the Milton Resnick and Pat Passlof Foundation here.