For the first time in its five-decade-history, The Studio Museum in Harlem is constructing a building created expressly for needs of its artists, staff, and its communities. Designed by Adjaye Associates with Cooper Robertson, the new building occupies the site on West 125th Street on which the Studio Museum had been operating since 1982, in a century-old commercial structure adapted by the celebrated Black architect J. Max Bond.
Undertaken as a public-private initiative in partnership with the City of New York, the new 82,000-square-foot, $175 million building will enable the Studio Museum to:
Inside and out, the new home of The Studio Museum in Harlem will reflect the institution’s fundamental sense of belonging within its community.
Named The Studio Museum in Harlem to underscore its presence in this cultural capital of Black America, while also reflecting the integral role Harlem plays in all aspects of the institution, the Studio Museum first opened its doors in 1968 in a rented second-floor loft at 2033 Fifth Avenue, just north of 125th Street. In 1979, the Museum secured the offer of a new home in the very heart of Harlem: the six-story Kenwood Building at 144 West 125th Street. Constructed in the early twentieth century as a furniture store with offices above, the building had been the site of an exhibition organized by Romare Bearden in 1966 for the Harlem Cultural Council and was owned at the time by the New York Bank for Savings.
The project of converting the West 125th Street building for the Studio Museum’s use was undertaken by the trailblazing Black architect J. Max Bond Jr., a Trustee of the Museum. With his firm, Bond-Ryder Associates, J. Max Bond was also responsible for the design of the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change in Atlanta, the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, and the New York Public Library’s renovated Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, a few blocks north of the Museum on West 135th Street. In 1982, the Studio Museum opened its new home with three inaugural exhibitions, which together expressed the institution’s ambitions and engagement with community: Ritual and Myth: A Survey of African American Art; Images of Dignity: A Retrospective of the Works of Charles White; and Harlem Heyday: The Photography of James Van Der Zee.
For the artists of African descent who have exhibited their works at the Studio Museum or participated in its Artist in Residence program, the experience of the Museum is inseparable from the experience of Harlem itself. Kevin Beasley has spoken of coming to the Studio Museum as an opportunity for “electric encounters,” in which he never knows who he’ll meet, or how the excitement of the contact will charge his art. Jordan Casteel, who fell in love with “watching the energy of Harlem” from her studio at the Museum, made a project of painting passersby she encountered on 125th, saying, “You cannot ignore the street and people here.”
While its West 125th Street galleries are closed for construction, the Studio Museum is redoubling its connection with the community through a series of collaborative initiatives named inHarlem. These exhibitions, public art installations, film screenings, discussions, undertaken with partners such as Harlem’s historic parks, the New York Public Library, Maysles Cinema, Harlem Stage, and more, ensure the Studio Museum and its community remain intertwined. The Studio Museum has also remained in close touch with Harlem through events and exhibitions offered at its temporary program space, Studio Museum 127, and its ongoing project of Harlem Postcards, in which it regularly commissions artists to create photographs of Harlem scenes that are then printed as postcards and offered free to all.