Buildinga collection of structures
Eter May collects buildings and houses. While most of these structures don’t really belong to him, they’re rendered in exquisite detail in his group of more than 700 architectural drawings, one of the world’s largest private holdings of such ephemera. Some of those brick-and-mortar houses are among America’s most architecturally distinctive, such as a few made by Ferguson & Shamamian, the New York City frm known for constructing what founding partner Mark Ferguson calls”new traditional” houses. He says that, beyond managing other people’s fnancial portfolios,”Among the things that I care about is structure, particularly detail in structure. I have an extremely large assortment of antique drawings that directly addresses that continuing passion. Detail has always been a hallmark of what I really care about and that which I admire in buildings.”
Bunny Williams, the major interior decorator who runs her eponymous design frm out of New York, has furnished a number of the homes May and his wife have owned over the years in Palm Beach, Connecticut’s Litchfeld County, new york, and Beaver Creek, Colorado. She claims her client and longtime friend,”Peter can read architectural plans better than anyone. I stated to him once,’Peter, you should be an architect.’ He replied,’If I had done that, I could not have aforded to build all these houses. ”’
Such pragmatism — and comedy — has led May instead to assemble, live with, and exhibit to the frst time his trove of artistic drawings that date from 1691 into the 1950s. As a philanthropist intimately involved in New York City’s cultural life (he is a manager of Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, cochairs that the New York Philharmonic, and has produced such Broadway shows as Tootsie and To Kill a Mockingbird), May will discuss approximately 40 of his own fnest functions at the New-York Historical Society, at which he is currently a trustee. This display, Architectural Drawings in the Peter May Collection: Training and Exercise in the Ecole des Beaux-Arts (on view January 22 through March 21), shows not only what has largely been wholly personal, but in addition replicates, in part, exactly how May resides with the drawings.
Maureen Cassidy-Geiger, staf curator in Trian Partners and curator of May’s private collection for the past four years, explains,”The drawings will soon be hung salon-style from the Society’s Great Hall, cheek-byjowl, because that’s how Peter resides with them; they pay the walls of their homes and his ofces on Park Avenue. And since virtually every job has been already framed, it was a real shocker to mount a show where some of the drawings didn’t have to be taken out of drawers, as with most other collections, then prepared to hang in the museum.” In imagining the screen, Cassidy-Geiger has set the more detailed drawings at eye level, although other functions, some 10 feet will hang high on the walls. Cassidy-Geiger herself has visceral responses to certain works in the group, speaking, for example, to the reconstruction drawings of Rome’s Villa Giulia by Harold Bradshaw (1893–1943) and of Arles’s Roman stadium by Jules Formigé (1879–1960) as”mouthwatering.”
JUST SAY “YES”
Throughout his three-plus years of amassing, May has rarely shied away from buying whatever catches his attention. In reality, he told his former curator,”It’s too large. It’s too expensive. I will take it.” Though the collection is diverse, May’s keenest attention has been dedicated to European Beaux-Arts buildings.
“While I care about and admire modern architecture and love to see creative new architecture about the New York skyline and elsewhere, what I always gravitate to are matters that go back to some diferent period, when textures and detail and decoration were well thought out. And so my favourite period is that the Beaux-Arts.”
Thus the New-York Historical Society series will focus on the BeauxArts. Cassidy-Geiger points into the museum’s vast holdings of architectural drawings from this period and into how this French system of training was embraced by New York’s architects throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Just for instance,”It was surely a touch point with McKim, Mead & White, so among the drawings we will display is a job by that frm.” As it happens, the main McKim, Mead & White record anywhere is held by the Society, ” she adds.
Although May can read patterns and foor plans such as a seasoned architect, his assortment comprises chiefy fnished design drawings, oil sketches, watercolors, pastels, and sketchbooks. Regarding its large number of British drawings, Charles Hind, chief curator of drawings at the Royal Institute of British Architects, writes in the two-volume catalog which accompanies the exhibition:”Peter May targets less on the constructional aspects of architectural drawings… but more about the representational methods by which both the look of a building has been sold to the customer or the architect’s ability as a designer at reproduction or filming was advertised.”
Given the way he lives, May’s works be both art and décor, in addition to daily confrmation he has secured the treasures he hunted. But they may also, perhaps, be a poignant reminder of the career which may have eluded him. In his foreword to the catalog, May writes about his early love of design, even as a boy growing up on the South Shore of Long Island in a 1920s Tudor-style residence. He recounts alive within an undergraduate”practically next door” into Wright’s”fabulous” Robie House (1909), and also the many feld trips he took to watch iconic buildings by Louis Sullivan and Daniel Burnham.
“Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately), the University of Chicago didn’t have an architecture school, therefore I was not able to enrol in that course of research,” May continues. “I chose fnance and company instead.” And in an echo of Bunny Williams’s anecdote, he adds,”When I had become a professional, I likely wouldn’t have been fortunate enough finally to build the gorgeous homes our family has lived ” Cassidy-Geiger observes,”It’s important to be aware that Peter may read cross sections and elevations and plans, but it’s not a given that others may.” Meanwhile, architect Mark Ferguson claims of his client,”Peter is a profigate builder who enjoys construction, who loves design, and that is, possibly, a frustrated master builder”
May’s collection was, Cassidy-Geiger clarifies,”jump started” in 1987 when he purchased 130 functions at one time from Stephanie Hoppen, the London dealer noted for works on paper. (He’s since moved into an apartment on Park Avenue at which as recently as last summer, Williams and Cassidy-Geiger donned masks and helped May decide where to hang his drawings) Over 30 years ago it was Williams who shot the Mays on this buying trip to London and attracted them to Hoppen’s gallery. May recalls,”While there, I discovered two or three architectural drawings on screen and I instantly fell in love with the genre. We bought everything she had — and that was the beginning.”
While the drawings, in aggregate, have a considerable price, Cassidy-Geiger points out that architectural drawings are largely affordable, which made this accumulating endeavor, possibly, even more appealing to May, despite his sizeable resources. “Their value is more small in contrast to Old Master drawings,”Cassidy-Geiger highlights. “Frequently, the larger cost is in the framing as well as the conservation,”she adds, stating that frames can cost as much as half the price of the job itself.
In a second essay from the catalog, Charles Hind notes that the market for architectural drawings now pivots on person works dating from the Renaissance through the 1960s, and on functions by these”starchitects”as Norman Foster and Frank Gehry. The driving forces in this market are institutions such as Paris’s Centre Pompidou and also Montreal’s Canadian Centre for Architecture, which maintain archives of post-war and modern drawings. Hind concludes,”[T] he market is limited to a few private individuals and a greater number of associations who want material for research and pleasure rather than status.” MAKING ROOM FOR ROOMS While May’s collection concentrates on late 19th-and early 20th-century competition or certification drawings by design students, in addition, it has presentation drawings, reconstruction studies, and interior design schemes. By now, May has amassed so many works-along with a smaller collection of architectural models and artifacts(the 1 area of his collecting in which his wife, Leni, occasionally has veto power), including a newel post by the old Chicago Stock Exchange-that Cassidy-Geiger needed to arrange the book’s chapters by construction types.
These categories include, amongst others, train stations; resorts, casinos, and spas; royal and private residences; monuments and landmarks; government buildings; cast-iron architecture; inside layout; and landscape design and garden architecture.
While it’s a simple fact that true collectors never quit collecting, May has scaled back only because, his curator describes, he’s run out of wall area, despite possessing numerous homes. Though he makes use of a climate-controlled Manhattan storage facility for overflow, May prefers to live with as many works as he can. He often stops to study a comfortable drawing -tracing his way through a floor plan or analyzing the measurements of a finial. “Since his walls are largely full, his impetus to get has diminished a little,”states Cassidy-Geiger,”but since he has such a fantastic eye, he goes to the occasional independent art fair and buys things, like Le Corbusier prints or a Frank Lloyd Wright chair. When he sees a difference in his group if has an idea to fill a corner, he’ ll buy something that he enjoys.” It’s important to be aware that the two-volume catalogue is devoted to the late Steve Andrews, who served as May’s individual curator for many years. He recalls,”Steve was a wonderful, humorous, artistic, and exceptionally knowledgeable youngman who had an excellent eye. We really built the collection together. “Andrews expired in 2016, but May continues to mention him and his character inthe collection. “Steve would supply drawings galleries and auction houses and then present them to me. He was brilliant in determining the perfect frame for every drawing was a genius when it came to hanging the right drawing in the right location.” In May’s ready and generous capability to acknowledge his curators, the architects that designed his homes, and the decorator who has supplied them, he knows the concept of collaboration,a dynamic that also defines the conducting of a (hugely) profitable business. Collaboration is every bit as necessary to the practice of design, to get a good architect should listen to others and adapt so as to design nicely. “I’ve been blessedto work with fantastic men and women who really appreciated the introduction of the group,”May says.
“The capacity to live on a daily basis with a lot of amazing pieces has significantly enriched my own life and love of design ” When the show opens at the New York Historical Society,guests will surely feel as if they’ve been invited within one of May’s residences to see how he lives with,and appears in,the drawings that he enjoys.