In his appraisal of cities, Truman Capote always got it right; “I love New York, even though it isn’t mine, the way something has to be, a tree or a street or a house; something, anyway, that belongs to me because I belong to it.” New York shirks any and all ownership; it is a shape-shifting creature, inoculated against the nostalgic whims of even if its most dedicated residents. It stops for no one, and as such, the tides of change erode each of the city’s countless histories at a different pace—some have their identities washed into nothing, others are immediately canonized for posterity. This city has borne witness to wave after wave of artistic innovation, and some of the most iconic studios in the world emerged here over the years. Plus, the greatest thing about New York? Even if you can’t access the interiors of these legendary spaces, you can certainly walk right up to the front doors and envision a time when these locations existed at the center of the creative universe.
Here are seven art historical landmarks to visit on a stroll through Downtown Manhattan.
ROBERT MAPPLETHORPE AND PATTI SMITH
24 Bond St. — NoHo
Along their epic journey through New York’s art underground, Robert Mapplethorpe and Patti Smith rendered a number of spaces unequivocally emblematic of their time; the Chelsea Hotel, CBGBs, and the recently late, great El Quijote Restaurant among them. In fact, Mapplethorpe’s iconic photographs of Smith (including the cover of her Horses album) were taken at 24 Bond Street in the now long-gentrified NoHo area of Manhattan. Designated as an artist residency at the time, 24 Bond Street housed Mapplethorpe’s studio until his death from AIDS in the '80s while simultaneously providing space for the burgeoning DIY movement and a broad swathe of experimental performance spaces. Thanks to the import of the Gene Frankel Theatre, an experimental concert venue and performance space, with which 24 Bond St. shares a facade, the building secured historical protection from the city in 2008, allowing it to remain functionally identical to its construction in 1893.
57 Great Jones St. — NoHo
The heavily graffitied 57 Great Jones Street facade has more to offer than its proximity to the now-closed Great Jones Cafe (the best Cajun food in New York, hands down... if the new owners rebrand as an overpriced gastropub, we should all revolt); shooting star and tragic genius Jean-Michel Basquiat lived and worked here until his untimely death from a heroin overdose in 1988 at the age of 27. Originally a horse stable that was renovated into a saloon in the early 1900s, 57 Great Jones Streets now boasts a small plaque explaining the significance of Basquiat’s artistic legacy. To stand in front of the space that birthed his seminal Neo-Expressionist masterpieces is to fantasize about their environmental context; you can almost hear Charlie “Bird” Parker wafting from a record player upstairs.
676 Broadway — NoHo
Mural master and '80s iconographer Keith Haring maintained a studio on the fifth floor of 676 Broadway in NoHo until his death from AIDS-related complications in 1990 at age 31. The studio is now occupied by the Keith Haring Foundation, a charitable organization dedicated to perpetuating his legacy through the circulation of Haring’s artwork and grant provision to people affected by HIV/AIDS. The Foundation, while private, has kept the former studio’s decorative elements essentially untouched since Haring’s passing, right down to each errant drip and wall splatter. Now sandwiched between an Equinox gym and a smattering of high-end clothing stores, this quiet walk-up serves as a reminder of a break-neck, contentious time for the activist impulse in contemporary art.
101 Spring St. — SoHo
Good news! Thanks to the efforts of the iconic minimalist sculptor’s foundation, guided visits are available (by appointment) at Judd’s former private living and working space at 101 Spring Street in SoHo. The five-story cast-iron building was designed by Nicholas Whyte in 1870, and was the first residence Donald Judd ever owned outright; it's also the site of his germinal entrees into permanent installation as an artistic concept. His relationship to 101 Spring Street was exceptionally radical for the time—in an essay from 1989, he wrote, “I spent a great deal of time placing the art and a great deal designing the renovation in accordance,” an approach that had never been previously considered for large-scale work. The results are spatially breath-taking, and well worth the $24 and 90 minutes it takes to drink in the architectural innovation on display.
134 Bowery — Lower East Side
Eva Hesse’s unsettlingly sensual sculptures were largely completed in a small studio at 134 Bowery in the Lower East Side until her 1970 death from a brain tumor at the age of 34. The space currently operates as Lomex Gallery, which has maintained the overall structural integrity of the original architecture, including the hooks that Hesse used to suspend her hanging pieces. With auxiliary projects in London, Berlin, and Stockholm, Lomex concentrates on innovative, emerging talent like Robert Bittenbender, whose found-object assemblages speak both to the past and future of sculpture and painting. Visiting Hesse's former studio is easy; the gallery's open hours are Wednesday through Sunday, 12pm to 6pm.
ANDY WARHOL'S FACTORY
231 East 47th St. — Midtown
While Andy Warhol’s legendary Factory moved three times between 1962 and its demise in 1983, the transformative art enclave originally lived on the fifth floor of 231 East 47th Street in Midtown Manhattan. Now an unsuspecting residential building next to parking lot, the walk-up was once a twinkling wonderland of transgressive art-making and high-fashion festivities, an experience Factory regular Mary Woronov once coined a “medieval court of lunatics.” The Silver Factory of the '60s, so termed for the reflective foil covering every inch of the walls, pre-dated the cut-throat, money-hungry edge of later iterations, and the testimony of its original participants very often mirrors that transition. Photographer and former man-about-town Dustin Pittman told the New York Times in 2018, “He chased you, and then—and there’s no nice way to say this—he moved on.” Still, the magic of this complex icon lives on in every aspect of his legacy, and you can’t help but swoon at the thought of Fran Lebowitz, Halston, and Andre Leon Talley occupying the same room.
347 West 20th St. — Chelsea
347 West 20th St. in Chelsea operated both as Louise Bourgeois’ work and home address by the time of her death in 2010. After her husband Robert Goldwater’s passing in 1973, Bourgeois moved her studio practice upwards from the basement, slowly transforming the entire domestic space into an inhabitable work of art. It was here that countless of her expertly wrought, psychosexual paintings, sculptures, and installations came to fruition. This address was also the site of her renowned Sunday salons, weekly intellectual exchanges or critiques between a rotating cast of curators, writers, and artists in her milieu. Bourgeois’ Easton Foundation is currently hard at work archiving her expansive canon, and while the building is not yet accessible to the public, the Foundation is currently compiling a mailing list to announce a forthcoming opening date.
131 1/2 Charles St. — Greenwich Village
There’s an odd, charming landmark tucked away in Greenwich Village that’s sure to interest even the most casual fine art enthusiast. Renowned, controversial documentarian of the human condition, Diane Arbus, moved to a converted carriage house at 131 ½ Charles Street after separating from her husband in 1959. Before her move to Renwick Triangle and eventually Wesbeth Artists Housing in the West Village, Arbus’ residence at Charles Street provided the foundation for some of her most important work, earning her two Guggenheim Fellowships and her first exhibition at MoMA. The sleepy green door now leads to a residential address, but its haunting presence deserves a gander if you’re walking through this part of town.