When we approached the Ford Foundation at 320 East 43rd Street in Manhattan, we saw an imposing building set back from the street. Once inside, we were welcomed by the sweetest security guards and staff.
Our guide was the Gallery’s Director, Lisa Kim, who was captivating as she shared the building’s history. In 1936, Henry Ford and his brother Edsel started the foundation as a charitable organization. The organization had a $25,000 endowment to support local arts in Michigan. By the time the brothers died in the 1940s, Henry Ford II was president, and the endowment was worth $450 million ($15 billion today!)
In 1967, the foundation moved to Manhattan. Architects Kevin Roche and John Dinkeloo designed a soaring 14-story building of glass, granite and steel. There were 400 private offices looking down at a first-floor interior garden, with lush trees, vines and shrubs, lizards, crickets and a bat! Landscape architect Dan Kiley made this garden the first of its kind in the U.S.
In 2016, President John Walker wanted to renovate, making the interior more modern, but keeping its historic sensibility. The renovation was completed in 2018, with added space for an art gallery. The gallery’s mission: To disrupt inequality in all its forms and to push for social change.
That mission has been fulfilled a thousand times over. In the current exhibit, Utopian Imagination, each piece has something to say in the most beautiful or magical way.
Zak Ove’s Skylark is a spaceship with objects that resemble African and Trinidadian sculpture, bringing new life to forgotten cultures.
In Yinka Shonibare’s Cloud 9, a black astronaut clad in fashionable African fabrics, represents the survival of black people as pioneers in space.
Juliana Huxtable’s Lil’ Marvel photograph shows us the artist (herself), a transgender black woman. Huxtable rejoices in the power of her own body, pulling you in so you can’t look away.
The gallery is free and accessible. The exhibit is on view through December 7th. For more information, go to fordfoundation.org.