The Brant Foundation Art Study Center – where art meets sport

The Brant Foundation Art Study Center is a place where art meets sport. Anchoring one end of the green expanse that is the playing field of Greenwich Polo Club, the stately 10,000-square-foot stone and wood building, which dates from 1904, was once a barn for storing apples and later a clubhouse that included indoor basketball and tennis courts.

Thanks to a 2005-09 revamp by architect Richard Gluckman that created mulitiered galleries, the space is now home to an array of art services and education programs as well as a slate of provocative exhibits. 

A case in point is the current “Animal Farm” (through Oct. 1), a cheeky — in every sense of the word — look at the animal in all its varieties, with name artists like Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring and Julian Schnabel. There are works on actual animals (Alex Bag’s amusing nature-film parody “Salmonellapod”); cartoon animals (Katherine Bernhardt’s insouciant Pink Panther, Haring’s horny Mickey Mouse); and political ones (William N. Copley’s prescient “Imaginary Flags for Ten Countries” series from the 1970s); as well as considerations of man’s animal nature (Nina Chanel Abney’s arrestingly homoerotic diptych “Si, Mister”). Sometimes the works combine several of the above, as in Copley’s “Girls,” an acrylic on canvas that looks like a girl’s face framed by big hair, a horse’s behind and a woman’s vulva — all wrapped up in a blue bow.

The show, curated by artist-musician Sadie Laska — whose contribution, “Stars and Bars,” depicts a red, white and blue guitar — arrives at a moment when the scales have tipped from classical to contemporary art in terms of what museumgoers are demanding and the auction houses are selling.

For the center, the exhibit represents “the third group show we’ve done and the first where not all the artworks are from (The Brant Collection),” says Allison Brant, the center’s director and daughter of center, collection and polo club founder Peter Brant.

The collection encompasses thousands of pieces by contemporary American artists — or artists working in America. It is not designed to cut a wide swath but rather focuses on specific artists and “the strongest works from every period of their careers,” Allison says.

She, too, embodies a place where sport met art. The third of Brant’s nine children — and the first of triplets — Allison had planned to play lacrosse at Union College in Schenectady, New York. (She also played field hockey.) But as one interest fell away, her love of English literature and art history were nurtured as her college major and minor respectively.

“I was exposed to so much art when I was growing up,” she says, “that I was really interested in it and enjoyed it.”

When her father was looking for someone to manage the collection and the center, he didn’t have to go far.

Today, Allison is not only a passionate advocate for shows like “Animal Farm” — which run May to October and November through March, with April and October being installation months. She also oversees numerous programs, including arts education for kindergarteners through 12th graders in public and private schools in Connecticut and New York; internships for students in Greenwich and Bronxville high schools and at Purchase College; lectures at such colleges and universities as Purchase, Hunter, Columbia, NYU and the School of Visual Arts; and support services for art students who may not be able to afford photographing their works or who wish to borrow books from the center’s contemporary art library.

“When I was in school, I found it difficult to get contemporary art books,” she recalls.

Another program dear to her heart — Free Arts, which brings 100 children from New York City’s Department of Homeless Services to the center, this year on Oct. 1, for a day of viewing and hands-on experience with art.

Allison will no doubt be even busier once the new space housing The Brant Collection on Manhattan’s Lower East Side opens May 18 of next year, bringing to fruition one of her father’s long-held dreams. In the meantime, she and the center welcome visitors by appointment weekdays and as walk-ins 1 to 3 p.m. on polo Sundays (this year through Sept. 10). Some of those who drop by are not art lovers, Allison says, but find a joy in discovery not unlike the students who come to the center.

“I think it’s really nice for us,” she says, “and polo makes it easy.”

For more, visit brantfoundation.org.

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