Office retreat in the sky


By Steven Kurutz | New York Times News Service

  • Alexander S.C. Rower
  • Age: 54
  • Occupation: President of the Calder Foundation
  • Location: Chelsea, Manhattan
  • His Favorite Room: Rower spends his days preserving the legacy of artist Alexander
A minisculpture by Alexander Calder
atop a table and A vase by the artist Eugene Von Bruenchenhein

Calder, who was his grandfather, and organizing shows, like Calder: Hypermobility, which is on view at the Whitney Museum of American Art. But he often retreats to the rooftop of the foundation’s building, and to a penthouse office that he has filled with his world-class collection of furniture. No one but his

dog, Tampopo, is invited inside, Rower said, “unless I like them”.

What started your love for furniture?

When I was 15, I was going to the Putney School in Vermont. They had a woodworking shop. I was watching the 18-year-olds make furniture. I thought, “If you’re going to use this precious material, you should make something beautiful out of it.” I made a few pieces of furniture. I learned how hard it is to make something that has beauty, harmony, that has the full story. Like one of my grandfather’s sculptures.

Alexander Rower, president of the Calder Foundation, with his dog, Tampopo, at his office in Manhattan on May 9. Rower has filled his penthouse office with a world-class
collection of furniture.

Did your family instill an appreciation for design?

You know, I grew up in strange circumstances. There were works of art by Picasso and Leger and Calder and Arp and others in our house in Greenwich Village. But the furniture was literally stuff my father dragged in off the street. He would strip all the layers of paint. Nothing matched, of course. That kind of mix and match, great works of art with almost random-seeming pieces of furniture, is how I grew up.

Speaking of random, is that chair made out of real bones?

They’re not, like, dinosaur bones. They’re cow bones. I was on the phone bidding at an auction. I was flipping the pages of the catalog. I thought: “What the hell is that? That’s so gross.” It was inexpensive, and I bought it. And everybody hates it except me.

You clearly have the collector gene. How do you keep the room from being overrun?

A warehouse. I don’t get rid of anything. I don’t sell anything.

What appeals to you as a collector?

I never buy any mass-produced furniture. Not a single thing. This table is by J.B. Blunk. This is one piece of redwood, right?

He didn’t go cut down a redwood and make this. He recycled wood. Then he sculpted it with a chain saw. If you look at the grain of the wood, it has this gorgeous movement all through it.

He’s questioning what is furniture, what is sculpture.

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