This post is part of our blog series Why Isn’t This Landmarked?, where we look at buildings in our area we’re fighting to protect that are worthy of landmark designation, but somehow aren’t landmarked.
This beautifully intact c. 1870 building at 32 East 10th Street was designed by W. Field & Son for Henry Naylor and altered in 1885 following a fire. It was originally built as a residence and it continued to serve in that capacity until the end of the 19th century. Following an alteration in 1898, directories show that its use switched from residential to manufacturing. By the mid-1950s, this area on the eastern edge of Greenwich Village straddling what we would today call the East Village became the center of the art world, particularly the “New York School’ of Abstract Expressionist artists. No. 32 East 10th Street was no exception; its top floor became the home and studio of abstract expressionist painter Franz Kline.
Franz Kline (1910-1962) was born in Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania and moved to New York City in 1938. He started his artistic career as a realist painter, but after meeting Willem de Kooning his style evolved to what would be his signature abstract approach to painting. He was known for his black and white abstractions using house paint. His style of painting was what art critic Harold Rosenberg referred to as ‘action painting,’ and during the 1950s he became a key figure in the abstract expressionist movement.
Kline was very much a regular at the nearby Cedar Tavern (located just around the corner at 24 University Place near 9th Street), like so many of his fellow abstract expressionist painters. He was also a founding member of “the Club,” an extremely influential collective of New York School painters located just two blocks south at 35 East 8th Street, and was very connected to the 10th Street Gallery Scene just east of his home and studio (more here). He made his home at 32 East 10th Street from 1953 to 1957, during which time some of his most noteworthy works were produced and he was in many ways at the height of his career. In 1950 he had had his first one-man show at the Egan Gallery in New York, in 1954 he had a one-man show of large paintings at the Institute of Design in Chicago, and the same year he had nine paintings included in the Twelve Americans show at the Museum of Modern Art.
His painting, Mahoning (1956) was named for a town in Pennsylvania near where Kline lived. Like his other abstract paintings, it started as a sketch that he then enlarged through the use of a projector on the canvas. He felt that the white paint was as important as the black paint and alternated painting the two with equal consideration. Atypically, however, in Mahoning Kline incorporated collage elements by adding sheets of paper to the canvas under the layers of paint.
Although he was known for his black and white compositions, later in the 1950s much of his work employed color. We can see the beginning of that in Orange Outline (1955). Still at play is the enormous energy in the color contrast and bold brushwork, which defines Kline’s works.
Describing his images as “painting experiences,” he explained, “I don’t decide in advance that I’m going to paint a definite experience, but in the act of painting, it becomes a genuine experience for me.” Sadly, Kline died of rheumatic heart disease in 1962 shortly before his 52nd birthday, leaving much unrealized potential.
Greenwich Village and the East Village south of Union Square, including 32 East 10th Street and its environs, face tremendous development pressure right now due to a lack of zoning and landmark protections, and city policies encouraging the replacement of low-to-mid-rise buildings, often historic and residential in nature, with high-rise commercial development. This has been exacerbated by the approval of the Mayor’s 14th Street Tech Hub last year by City Council at the behest of Councilmember Carlina Rivera.
We are seeking landmark designation for this and about 200 surrounding buildings on a dozen blocks. Join us in urging the city to protect this vital history and neighborhood NOW – click here.