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Artifacts from New York City’s Demolished Buildings

Curators’ Corner

Artifacts from New York City’s Demolished Buildings

The tragic glory of Manhattan’s ever-changing cityscape is on display an hour west of Albany, where stone fragments that were once ornaments on buildings from decades past are safely nestled in the humble wooden Anonymous Arts Museum. Gargoyles, lions, and cherubs rescued from demolition sites by the late Ivan Karp and his wife, Marilynn Gelfman Karp, have found their final resting place 175 miles from the city whose history they preserve.

The museum was established in 1985, although Karp began collecting its contents in the late 1950s when he became aware that many ornate, circa 1875 buildings that signified an era when New York was beginning its upward growth were being cleared away to make room for the sleek modern skyscrapers of today.

Karp, “a cigar-chomping, fast-talking New York gallery owner who helped find, popularize and market the Pop artists of the 1960s, including Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, and Robert Rauschenberg,” as described by The New York Times, would drive around the city with his wife to demolition sites, buying pieces from construction workers.

The niche adventures of Karp even inspired the novel, “The Gargoyle Hunters,” by John Freeman Gill. The story takes place in New York in 1974 when the city was caught in a sweep of urban renewal and anything that wasn’t bolted down was stolen. Manhattan is “maddening, heartbreaking, [and] self-cannibalizing,” Gill told The Washington Post. “At any moment, rapacious developers may reduce the most beloved old buildings to a ‘moonscape of destruction.’”

Ivan Karp died in 2012, but the artifacts in the Anonymous Arts Museum live on as the museum is open for visitors during the summer months on Sundays from 12 p.m. to 3p.m. If you happen to find yourself near Charlotteville, N.Y., it’s worth stopping by to see some of the only remains of Manhattan’s buildings of yesteryear. See photos in The New York Times.