Bettina Grossman, an artistic fixture at the Chelsea Hotel, has died at 94

Seeing as Bettina Grossman pushes her shopping cart full of artwork outside the Chelsea Hotel in New York City, it may seem improbable that she was once a skilled artist with a promising career.

Grossman was unusual even by the standards of Chelsea, a storied paradise for quirky artists. Her studio apartment, Room 503, at the end of a long fifth-floor hallway, had become so crowded with her accumulated artwork—largely abstract, highly conceptual drawings, sculptures and photographs—that she moved away from her own living space. was displaced. She slept on a lawn chair in her hallway.

“She was eccentric with a capital E,” said Robert Lambert, a painter who lived down the hall from Grossman in Chelsea, which for years was home to the likes of Mark Twain, Bob Dylan and Janis Joplin.

“His room was like an Egyptian tomb,” Lambert said in an interview. “It looked like a wreck, but you blow dust and the beautiful sculpture is nothing but treasure.”

In the 1950s and 60s, Grossmann worked as an artist in Europe. But after a series of career disappointments, she isolated herself as a permanent resident in Chelsea for a half-century, fiercely protecting both her privacy and her wealth of art, which she made with her in New York and Europe. Made in chief.

He refused the guests and secured the door of his apartment with several heavy locks.

His niece Aliza Greene said Grossman died of respiratory failure on November 2 at Brooklyn Care Center, where she was rehabbing after a fall several months earlier. She was 94 years old.

Towards the end of Grossman’s life, he and his work became more widely known. She was the subject of two documentaries and allowed a small group of fellow artists to catalog their pieces and exhibit them at shows in New York and Germany. His work is currently on display at the Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan and MoMA PS1 in Queens.

Bettina Grossman was born on September 28, 1927, in Brooklyn to Saul and Pauline Grossman, and grew up with three siblings in an Orthodox Jewish home in the Borough Park section.

His father owned a music store in Manhattan, but he did not encourage his children to pursue art, his brother Morty said in an interview.

“How he got the talent, I don’t know – I think God put him in that,” he said.

After studying commercial arts in high school, she became a designer of neckties, sheets, pillows and the like for a clothing manufacturer and had saved enough money by her early 20s to move to Europe. There she pursued her art career and dropped her youthful surname, Betty, just going by the same name as Bettina.

“He chose his name and created his personality,” Green said.

Grossman turned out to be a precision craftsman. He traveled to Carrera, Italy, to select marble for his sculptures. She studied stained glass with a master’s in France.

He also lived an adventurous, flamboyant life. With the looks and wardrobe of a model, her niece said, Grossman drove sports cars, skied the Alps, and attracted several boyfriends.

She returned to the United States living and working in a Brooklyn Heights building in the late 1960s, when a fire ruined most of her work, including paintings, sculptures, photo slides, and textile designs.

Two photographs by Bettina Grossman, “Phenomena Project” from 1979–80 and “Option for an angle, 24 constants from one constant” from 1971, as well as the work of other artists in her “Marble Egg”, “Greater”. On performance with New York,” at the MoMA PS1 in Queens. (Source: Jeanneh Moon/The New York Times)

“It was a breaking point,” Green said. “It was a painful thing for him.”

In “Girl with a Black Balloon” (2010), a documentary directed by Corinne van der Borch, a Dutch filmmaker living in Brooklyn, Grossman said that after the fire “destroyed my life,” she changed her attitude towards her art. Doubled down on his commitment, which knocked him out. From taking time off from work to getting married and having kids or even fostering it.

“The only way to do beautiful things like this is to isolate yourself from reality, from friends, from the messy situation out there,” she said.

Around 1970, she moved into the Chelsea Hotel—not because of its romantic reputation, but because of its approachable atmosphere and its creative habits.

She continued to create works and showed them occasionally, but she was frustrated by the difficulties she faced as a woman in the commercial art world and the widespread belief that her ideas were being co-opted by other artists.

In 2007, Sam Bassett, an artist who was then a hotel resident, made a documentary called “Betina” about Grossman.

“Indeed, she was suffocating in her greatness,” he told The New York Times in 2008.

The increasing rush of work started obstructing her access to bathroom and kitchen. With less space, she turned to photo and printmaking and slept in the empty space near her door.

“Surrounded by so much extraordinary art hidden in boxes from floor to ceiling, it felt like she built a bird’s nest,” said van der Borch, director of “Girl with the Black Balloon,” which won the Metropolis Competition Prize. DOC NYC festival in 2011.

Grossman was buried next to his mother in Israel. Apart from brother in his family, there is a sister Esther Zeitver.

In recent years, fans would leave flowers and notes on a small table in the hallway outside Grossman’s door, his former neighbor Lambert said.

“She will get letters from all over the world,” he said.

As he refused to let hotel staff members into his apartment, it went into disarray. In 2006, he successfully thwarted the hotel’s attempt to evict him.

In recent years, from undergoing renovations to convert the hotel into a luxury property, Grossman was one of a dwindling number of full-time residents who remained due to state rent regulations. His rent was about $350 a month, his brother said.

He ruled out the possibility of considering a buyout offer to give up his lease.

“I said, ‘Tell them you want $5 million,'” Lambert said. “She said, ‘Where shall I go?'”

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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