When we showed up outside the former Germania Bank Building at around 6:30 PM on Saturday, May 16th, fully expecting to be admitted to Vito Schnabel’s First Show Last Show one-night-only art event taking place inside this mysterious landmark, we found the sidewalks adjacent to the corner of Bowery and Spring clogged with disappointed scenesters who already knew what we were yet to be told: that the much hyped-up-the-ass event had been cancelled.
Fortunately, we had been at Frieze all day and were too exhausted to give much of a shit. Plus, there were other things going on — this being New York City — and we ended up having a pretty fun night on our own.
The following Monday, I read online that those wishing to view the exhibit could email Schnabel’s office and request an appointment for the hours of Noon to 6 PM, Monday through Friday, with Monday May 25th being closed for the holiday. Pretty non-user-friendly hours for anyone with a day job, but I sent off my request for “5 PM on Friday May 22nd” and then promptly forgot all about it, until I saw an email in my box at 10 PM on Thursday, saying that I had an appointment for 2:15 PM the next day. Let’s just say, I made it work. And Geoffrey came along with me, because a once-in-a-lifetime experience like this really needs to be shared.
For those of you who don’t live in NYC, and therefore don’t know the legend of this iconic building, 190 Bowery was originally built in 1898 to house Germania Bank. The century old building is known for its neo-Renaissance detailing, such as the arched windows and ornate outer facade, which, for as long as I can remember, has been covered in graffiti and street art.
This is, I think, the main reason that everyone who has walked past it assumed that the building was long abandoned. Who imagined that this was once NYC’s largest private residence?
Photographer Jay Maisel bought the building in the mid 1960s and has lived in it with his family ever since. In the decades that I’ve lived in NYC, the building has appeared lifeless and was perpetually shuttered, shrouded in deep mystery — until Masiel sold the place last year to real estate developer Aby Rosen, and it suddenly started making the local news. Rosen’s plans to lease it out as office space or turn it into Condos has made everyone who aches for the preservation of old New York a bit sick to their stomachs. It was Rosen, along with Julian Schnabel’s son, Vito who hosted the show.
Here’s what we saw once we got inside.
This large room was used by the Maisel family as a basketball court, hence the yellow and black tape on the floor.
The hoop formerly hung above the door, but has now been taken down. The floor is a mix of natural polished wood and its original ceramic tile mosaic. The wood “court surface,” I imagine, was added to facilitate game play, but maybe not. The largest pieces of art in the show were in this room.
The above painting was installed at the top of a small fight of stairs that lead, well, nowhere, really.
But doesn’t this look like some kind of vault? I think so.
The interior’s original finishes and fixtures look like they haven’t been updated in fifty years: like the owners moved in and lived in the building “as is.” That tells such a rich story right there.
Art was also displayed inside a smaller, access area between the large front space and in one small room, in which three large pieces by Author/Film Director Harmony Korine were displayed
As I looked at the art, I felt so excited to be inside this cool old building that the general public had not been inside of in fifty years. It was like being in a haunted house, or something.
Here is a close up detail of the marble walls and tile mosaic floor, which is still in excellent shape.
Check out the Lion Heads embossed on the Radiator.
“Exhibit Continues” promised a sign at the foot of these stairs.
Upstairs, we found this tiny alcove room with three pieces by abstract painter Ron Gorchov. We just saw his work at MOMA last weekend!
Somebody left this rose.
It was a thrill to check out the First Show Last Show inside the old Germania Bank Building before they scrub away all its character and it just becomes another New York story.
These tiny hummingbirds are affixed to the cement just outside the front door. Soon, they will be gone.
Update October 2017: There’s a Fancy Mens’ Clothing Boutique in the First Floor Now. Fancy!