Installation view of Franz Ackermann, Sunrise, Sunset or The Windmill, the Water, and the Grain, at Goldman Sachs, 200 West Street, New York. Photos: 16 Miles [more]
"At 200 West Street, as the building is known, the name of the firm appears nowhere on the exterior, or in the lobby, or even on the uniforms of the security personnel or the badges given to visitors."
– Paul Goldberger, "Shadow Building," The New Yorker, May 17, 2010
Though 200 West Street, Manhattan's new Harry Cobb-designed Goldman Sachs headquarters, lacks any mention of its corporate owner, it features two unusual identifying markers that are visible to the public: a hulking, virtuosic Julie Mehretu painting hanging in the front lobby and a Franz Ackermann that covers the walls of the entire rear lobby. The next time you plan to see a film in downtown Manhattan, check if your selection is screening at the Regal Battery Park Stadium 11. The theater is tucked right behind the building.
Given the stature of the artists involved, the infamous corporate patron, the head of the curatorial advisory committee (Jeffrey Deitch), and the sheer size of the commissions ($15 million in total, the amount reportedly spent on Olafur Eliasson's much-celebrated New York City Waterfalls — $5 million for the Mehretu and a mind-boggling $10 million for the Ackermann), one would expect the building to be a pilgrimage site for art followers, but that doesn't seem to have happened yet. However, since visitors can only view the works from a distance — through a long set of windows, in the case of the Mehretu, from a small public area in the back lobby, in the case of the Ackermann — that is not particularly surprising.
What is surprising is that, according to Goldman managing director Timur Galen, the firm initially hoped to have the works more accessible to the public. "We would really like the work of people like Julie, and Franz, and Harry Cobb to be judged on its own merits," he told Calvin Tomkins in an interview for the writer's 2010 New Yorker profile of Mehretu. Hearing this, Tomkins picks up the "unsaid implication that in today's anti-Goldman climate they might not be." He concludes, "Fair enough, I guess. If art were judged by the company it keeps, much of the High Renaissance would go down the drain."
The question, of course, is just how long we have to wait to judge those works on their own merits. The still-potent resentment toward the bank and the urge to play armchair corporate psychologist are unlikely to disappear anytime soon. (My guess is that will take centuries, not decades.) But it seems possible that, if Goldman were to pop open it's doors and move its security turnstiles a bit further back, allowing people to see the pieces up close, certain inevitable questions — such as "What made Goldman pick this?" and "What did Ackermann do with that $10 million?" — could at least share space with some aesthetic questions that just may be a bit more interesting.
Through that window, there are hints that Mehretu's multi-panel behemoth, at least, has the makings of a masterpiece, with various strains of abstraction, some familiar from past work and some resolutely and tantalizingly new, fighting it out on an incredible field of color and line. For now, though, we can only guess, and after some looking, head to the nearby Embassy Suites in Battery Park City, where a towering late Sol LeWitt wall drawing is on view, entirely unobstructed from the ground below.
Sol LeWitt, Wall Drawing #924 / Loopy Doopy (Blue and Purple), 1999, at the Embassy Suites in Battery Park City. Acrylic paint, 100 x 80 ft.