Located above the window, in the corner of the 2nd floor stairwell in the historic Breuer Building located at 945 Madison Avenue, is a small, permanent art installation by the artist Charles Simonds entitled Dwellings. It was commissioned by the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1981 and is part of a series of three sculptures ~ one in this stairwell, and two located across the street. Let’s take a closer look.
The story of ‘Dwellings‘ is written on a plaque on the wall next to the stairwell installation, it reads, “In 1970 Simonds began making miniature settlements that he described as ‘dwelling places for an imaginary civilization of Little People.’ Seemingly abandoned by its inhabitants and resembling architectural ruins, Dwellings evokes a particular time and place in the Little People’s invented history.”
“Early in his career, the artist worked primarily in New York’s SoHo and Lower East Side neighborhoods, constructing his sculptures in niches of dilapidated brick apartments, gutters, window ledges, and vacant lots”
“The works were vulnerable to underscoring the ephemerality of every civilization. During the last four decades, Simonds has built more than three hundred structures in cities around the world,, including Chicago, Houston, Paris, Berlin, and Shanghai.”
Just below the stairwell installation, is a window that looks out onto the other two sculptures. They are located at 940 Madison Avenue, now home to the Apple Store. One of the sculptures is located on the second story ledge, and the other is located on the rooftop chimney. If you didn’t know where to look, you would miss them entirely. The sculptures are made of clay, sand, sticks, stones, wood, plaster, cloth and chicken wire.
The 2015 re-installation of the work at 940 Madison Avenue is made possible by Khedouri Ezair and Ardalan Lahijani, in honor of Menisci Ezair and Mehdi Lahijani.
In 1981, Simonds was commissioned to install Dwellings at the Marcel Breuer-designed building of the Whitney Museum of American Art located at 945 Madison Avenue, and two more sculpture pieces directly across the street at 940 Madison Avenue – which can been seen from the window directly below the Breuer Building stairway sculpture.
Many of Simonds early ‘Dwellings’ (1970-1979) could be found on Greene Street, East Houston Street, East 2nd Street, East 6th Street, East 13th Street ~ in gutters and in the sides of buildings. ‘Dwellings‘ were also part of Whitney Museum of American Art, New York Biennial, 1975, and at PS 1 in the same year. Out of New York, ‘Dwellings‘ were created in Ohio ~ then on to Paris and Berlin.
About the artist ~ Charles Simonds (born 1945, NYC) is a New York-based contemporary artist and sculpture best known for his sculpture series ‘Dwellings‘, small clay constructions the artist began installing in buildings around the world beginning in the 1970s. He received a Bachelor of Arts degree from U.C. Berkeley in 1969 and a Master of Fine Arts from Rutgers University in New Jersey.
Frick Madison currently occupies the building, and will continue with a full exhibition schedule through March 3, 2024. In September, look forward to Barkley L. Hendricks: Portraits. and don’t miss the site-specific mural and portraits by Nicolas Party, ‘Portrait of a Man in Pilgrim’s Costume’, the return of a trio of Frick Vermeers, and all exhibitions during this final year.
The Breuer Building at 945 Madison Avenue will become home to Sotheby’s in September of 2024, with plans to open in 2025. We understand that Dwellings will continue to be on view in the stairway on the 2nd floor of this historic building.