Spotlighting objects, vision

The Forbes Galleries in the Village

For more than 25 years, The Forbes Collection has been sharing the treasure trove of art, collectibles and memorabilia that is the legacy of the late Malcolm Forbes – for free – at The Forbes Galleries in Greenwich Village.

Wait… you thought the charming little gallery closed when the stellar collection of Fabergé eggs was sold off in the 1990s? Or maybe after the more recent divesting of the impressive collection of toy soldiers and boats?

Wrong, says Bonnie Kirschstein, the collection’s managing director, who has been with the family-owned Forbes company since 1989.

“We’ve been buying and selling the whole time I was here,” says Kirschstein, who was raised in Chappaqua.

She is more than used to the misconceptions and always ready to reassure that the collection remains vibrant – and something to be shared.

“Yes, there’s still an awful lot, and yes, we have a very active exhibition schedule.”

The sale of the toy collection, in 2010, though did bring change, she says.

“That actually enabled us to kind of rethink how we were going to do the galleries,” Kirschstein says.

That meant a period of renovation, a grand reopening and now, expanded space that lends itself to even bigger exhibitions.

A worthy visit

The galleries fill the lobby level of the Forbes Media headquarters on Fifth Avenue at 12th Street.

The recent addition of flags out front signal what for a long time was perhaps overlooked.

First is the impressive building, originally built for the MacMillan Publishing Co. in 1925 by Carrère and Hastings (of New York Public Library and Frick Collection fame).

Forbes bought what would become its flagship in the early 1960s, moving in by 1967 after extensive renovations. Artwork was a Forbes feature from the start.

Publisher-philanthropist Forbes started a corporate art collection in the 1960s with acquisitions based on family decisions not by consultant or committee. Interests range from 19th-century French military pictures to toys to contemporary Realist work.

The Forbes Galleries opened its doors in 1985, and today, the galleries continue to welcome visitors from around the world, those intrigued by Forbes’ outsize personality and the glimpse into the family’s enduring tradition of collecting.

On view

Today, an exhibition on the American Realist painter, “Walter Stuempfig: 1914-1970,” fills the BC Forbes Galleries 1, 2 & 3, the largest exhibition spaces, named after the company founder, Malcolm’s father. It continues through Nov. 24.

A memorabilia-filled look at “The Ocean Liner United States: The Past & Future of America’s Flagship” continues through Oct. 20 in the Carrère Gallery.

New to the scene is the Forbes 60 Fifth Club Room, designed by Ally Coulter, Ralph Lauren’s personal designer. The space, used to host private Forbes events for clients and advertisers, is a step into a world of luxury and style. It’s a blend of furniture and decorative objects from the vast Forbes collections, from chandeliers to rugs, a ship model to a glass-topped antler table – all integrated with Ralph Lauren pieces. Artwork ranges from paintings by Alex Katz and Salvador Dalí to a bronze by Mahonri Young, a sculptor connected to Weir Farm in Wilton.

It all reflects the way Forbes collected, Kirschstein says.

“Malcolm went to galleries,” Kirschstein says. “He went to openings. He looked for art.”

And he filled properties in France, Morocco, Colorado and New Jersey with his finds – but it wasn’t just for him.

“He wanted to share his collection. He was not the type of person to let the things sit in a storeroom… He had a great outlook on life.”

Business and pleasure

The galleries often showcase traveling exhibitions, others drawn from its own collections and sometimes, more commercially oriented efforts.

“The galleries have always and continue to be an important arm for business in the company,” Kirschstein says.

A recent vodka exhibit, for example, was something that might seem incongruous – in theory.

“Obviously I want to be accommodating. It’s important. It’s business,” she says.

But she is aware of the aesthetic as well and has found a way to integrate all elements.

“You don’t want to be walking through a painting show and walk through the Hastings Gallery and you’ve got vodka bottles.”

But these five-figure collectible bottles were displayed in artful vignettes and did bring something to the surroundings.

“They were beautiful. They weren’t art, but they were cool.”

Life at Forbes

Kirschstein got her job via a blind ad – “corporate art collection looking for a registrar” – in The New York Times.

Then a graduate student at New York University Institute of Fine Arts (after graduating from Horace Greeley High School and what was then SUNY Purchase), Kirschstein was planning to go on for her doctorate and teach.

Instead, she landed the job with Forbes and has steadily advanced through the years.

“I’ve had about eight titles here,” she says.

She did join at a time when the collecting was in high gear.

“Malcolm was alive and it was raining money.” She would go to auctions to help with the growing collection.

But the Forbes philosophy has kept the collection growing and changing.

“You build a collection, and you’re really a custodian for the time you’re here on Earth,” she says was his attitude.

And that philosophy, she notes, has allowed Forbes’ children to let go of some things to concentrate on other endeavors.

She was “on the front line” to help build the collection of American paintings.

Today, that is a Forbes trademark, now exhibited in expansive galleries that are welcoming… if not exactly tall.

“The height is definitely a problem,” Kirschstein says. At just about six and a half feet, she adds, joking, “no NBA players here.”

Moving ahead

The future, Kirschstein says, is unclear. The company sold its building to New York University and is now leasing the space back, though it will remain there for at least two more years, she says.

After that, relocation within Manhattan is expected.

So for now, visit the collection to savor the great tradition, one that continues next spring with “Out of This World!”

The galleries, noted for a particularly strong history of showcasing stunning jewelry, will spotlight Space Age jewelry. Elyse Zorn Karlin, a Port Chester woman who publishes Adornment, the Magazine of Jewelry & Related Arts, will curate the spring show.

For Kirschstein, it’s another thing to look forward to.

“I still learn so much, even after 23 years. That’s what’s so great about it.”

And that’s why, as Kirschstein concludes with a laugh, the galleries deserve a place in New York’s cultural conversation.

“We consider ourselves an important venue in the Village…. We like to say we’re the very bottom of Museum Mile.”

The Forbes Galleries are at 62 Fifth Ave., at 12th Street. For more details, call (212) 206-5548 or visit forbesgalleries.com

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