RONIN GALLERY Bryant Park Place 32 West 40th Street, New York, NY 10018 212.688.0188 | RoninGallery.com The Largest Collection of Japanese Prints in the U.S.
Ronin Gallery, one of the worldâ€™s leading dealers in Japanese woodblock prints and home to the largest collection of Japanese prints for sale in the U.S., has moved to a truly unique art space. In October 2019, the gallery opened its doors in the taproom of the old Engineers Club on Bryant Park. Built by Andrew Carnegie in 1907, 32 West 40th Street is a New York City landmark.
Ronin Gallery at Bryant Park Place
32 West 40th Street, New York, NY 10018 212.688.0188 | RoninGallery.com The Largest Collection of Japanese Prints in the U.S.
Completed in 1907, the Engineers Club building was designed by the architecture firm Whitfield & King and funded by Andrew Carnegie. The club provided a space for engineers to socialize, to share ideas over a casual drink in the comfort of the taproom, and was frequented by notable individuals such as Andrew Carnegie, Herbert C. Hoover, and Nikola Tesla. As home to Ronin Gallery, Bryant Park Place will once again become a space for passionate conversation, education, and celebration of shared interest. Beneath the steeletched signature of Carnegie himself, the taproom has been transformed into a custom-built space for the care, study, and exhibition of Japanese woodblock prints.
Ronin Gallery worked with Hirsch | Corti Architecture, Think Construction, and top consultants to create a highly designed home for its encyclopedic collection of 17th through 21st century Japanese prints. From museum-grade lighting and flexible exhibition space, to an unceasing attention to material and historical detail, the new space optimizes the conservation of the collection, the preservation of this historic building, and the experience of the collector. Visitors will feel transported in the gallery – from vibrant Bryant Park to the marriage of Japan and New York that is Ronin Gallery. The main exhibition space features floorto- ceiling yakisugi cypress storage beside an original riveted steel beam bearing Carnegie’s signature. Sunlight pours from the skylight onto Nakashima furniture, while the private viewing room is complete with historic stained
(Above) Original stained glass has been preserved in the private viewing room.
“the new space optimizes the conservation of the collection, the preservation of this historic building, and the experience of the collector”
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glass windows. A Japanese tea and wet bar separates the exhibition space from the private library and staff workspace. Downstairs, the lower level is devoted to gallery operations and opens onto a private Japanese-style garden.
(Above left) Floor-to-ceiling flat file storage drawers made of yakisugi cypress. (Above right) Back office with desk handcrafted by Miya Shoji.
With the ubiquitous white-box gallery nowhere in sight, this New York establishment plants its roots at the intersection of old world gallery charm and contemporary innovation. Although its address has changed, visitors can continue to expect all of the qualities that Ronin Gallery has embodied for the past 45 years – a dedication to quality, connoisseurship, and accessibility in an open and friendly environment – taken to the next level. As turn-of-thecentury architecture, contemporary design, and Japanese art come together at Bryant Park Place, Ronin Gallery creates an experience as rare as the collection it holds.
Private viewing room at Bryant Park Place
About the Gallery
Ronin Gallery is one of the world’s leading dealers in Japanese woodblock prints and home to the largest collection of 17th – 21st century Japanese prints for sale in the United States. Established in 1975 in the Explorers Club Mansion of New York City, Ronin Gallery’s mission is to introduce the best of Japan’s artistic talents to a global audience. While Japanese arts form the core of the Ronin collection, the gallery presents artists from all across East Asia. Ronin gallery has been family-owned and operated since its inception. Currently under second-generation management, the gallery continues to epitomize the highest standards of quality and expertise within the field. An expert staff is available to help with collection guidance, sales, consignments, artist development, exhibition management, conservation, framing, and more. The gallery has an extensive network of collectors, artists, and institutions. It has been Ronin Gallery’s pleasure and joy to help its clientele, whether first-time buyers
(Above left) Hokusai. Fine Wind, Clear Weather (aka Red Fuji). c. 1830-1832. Woodblock print. (Above right) Utamaro. Three Modern Beauties: Okita, Toyohina and Ohisa. c.1792. Woodblock print.
or revered art institutions, build “collections, rather than accumulation, ” of artwork. Each year, Ronin Gallery curates four major exhibitions, over 40 online exhibitions, and publishes scholarly catalogs. In addition, the gallery regularly works with museums and other galleries to present collaborative exhibitions. As co-founder of the annual Ronin|Globus Artist-in-Residence Program, Ronin Gallery seeks to stimulate cross-cultural dialogue through Japan’s vanguard of visual art while providing an opportunity for emerging and mid-career Japanese visual artists to live, work, and exhibit in New York City. Ronin Gallery has been at the intersection of art and technology for over 25 years. Beginning with the launch of their first virtual gallery in the early 90s, Ronin has strived to combine traditional gallery charm with an innovative digital experience. They embrace the ability to digitally bridge geographic boundaries and reach a global clientele. Simultaneously, they recognize the opportunity to modernize the experience of the physical gallery space. Digital tools invite visitors to browse thousands of works with ease.
Hiroshige. Sudden Shower at Ohashi Bridge and Atake. 1857. Woodblock print.
Our History The story of Ronin Gallery began long before there was a Ronin Gallery. It began with the co-founder Herb Libertson’s love affair with Japan, a passion born from his father’s tales as a merchant seaman in the South China Seas in the 1920s. These stories sparked Herb’s imagination - an impact that would last for decades. In particular, Herb found himself drawn to “the floating world” captured in Japanese woodblock prints. As Herb pursued a successful career in New York City real estate brokerage and development, he began to not merely admire, but also collect these works. In the 1960s, Herb had the opportunity to purchase works from Frank Lloyd Wright’s collection of Japanese woodblock prints. His fate was sealed. Just as Wright himself described, “the prints choose who they love and there is no salvation but surrender,” Herb surrendered completely.
Explorers Club Mansion on 70th Street on the Upper East Side.
Roni Neuer, Herb Libertson and Tomomi Seki, together for over 40 years.
Ronin Gallery opens in 1975 at the Explorers Club Mansion.
In the early 1970’s, Herb met Roni Neuer, a young art educator equally enchanted by the prints’ fine line, delicate color, and contemporary perspectives. Together, the two traveled the world as explorers. Sponsored by Nikon, Polaroid, the Royal Geographic Society, and the Explorers Club, they made numerous first contacts in Western New Guinea, traversed Borneo, and led photographic and medical expeditions to South Sudan. The pair would co-produce acclaimed documentary films on their findings, write articles, and exhibit their photography at Nikon House. In addition, during their travels to Asia and Europe, they slowly began to assemble what would become the largest collection of Japanese prints for sale in the United States. In 1975, Roni and Herb rented the 4th floor in the Explorers Club Mansion. In this historic space, Ronin Gallery was born. During the gallery’s early days it was not uncommon to see great explorers such as Tenzing Norgay, Lowell Thomas, Edmund Hilary, and Jim Fowler enjoying a glass of scotch around the fireplace. Time or fate was on their side, for the galley’s opening coincided with the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s blockbuster exhibition The Great Wave. As they acquired major collections, Ronin Gallery began curating exhibitions ranging from ukiyo-e to Sosaku Hanga. Roni authored the bestselling book Ukiyo-e: 250 Years of Japanese Art, which went through six printings in over four languages.
Roni Neuer and Herb Libertson during their sold out Hokusai exhibition!
Roni Neuer and Tomomi Seki.
As the gallery grew, it came time to leave the Explorers Club Mansion. In 1978, they moved to 57th Street and Madison Avenue, customizing the space with a Japanese teahouse. At this location, they opened the first shunga (Japanese erotic art)
(Top left) The gallery’s 57th Street location was an oasis in midtown Manhattan. (Bottom left) The gallery’s second home on 57th Street and Madison Avenue. (Right) The future gallery president already at work.
exhibition in New York, as well as major exhibitions of Utamaro, Koryusai, Hiroshige, and Hokusai, to name but a few. Yet, life rarely follows a straight path. In the late 1990s, the gallery was forced to scale back due to a major health issue for Roni. Nevertheless, their passion for the prints endured. At this time, the gallery took its first steps online. Following Roni’s full recovery in 2003, Ronin Gallery moved to the corner of 49th Street and Madison Avenue. There they continued to curate major exhibitions of Japanese art in the gallery and grew their online presence, featuring bimonthly digital exhibitions. In 2012, the gallery entered its second generation, as Roni and Herb’s son David Libertson became gallery president. With
(Left) Roni Neuer and David Libertson. (Right) Third-floor gallery space at 425 Madison Avenue.
an urge for innovation, David carries on his parentsâ€™ legacy. Under his lead, the gallery has reimagined its digital presence, increased the emphasis on contemporary collecting, and presented cutting-edge exhibitions, such as Taboo|Tattoo, Toulouse-Lautrec and the Floating World, and Munakata and the Disciples of Buddha. In the spirit of collaboration, the gallery co-founded the Ronin|Globus Artist-in-Residence Program with the Globus family in 2015. As Ronin Gallery nears its 45th anniversary, this familybusiness now makes its home in the historic Engineers Club at Bryant Park Place. In a sense, the gallery has come full circle. From one New York landmark to another, Ronin Gallery intertwines the art of Japan and the history of New York City.
Original steel beam signed by Andrew Carnegie himself.
A Talk with the President
As Ronin Gallery nears its 45th anniversary, it’s on the brink of lots of change. What can visitors expect in the new gallery space? Visitors can continue to expect all of the wonderful things that Ronin Gallery has exuded for the past 45 years – a dedication to quality, connoisseurship, and accessibility in an open and friendly environment – taken to the next level. For years, Ronin Gallery has earned a reputation for its almost encyclopedic collection of Japanese woodblock prints, and more recently, for hosting some of the most exciting contemporary artists of Japan today. In the new space, we will be integrating our archival storage with the exhibition area.
David T. Libertson, secondgeneration president of Ronin Gallery.
Why is this accessibility important to the visitor’s experience? How does this enrich the experience? Art is incredibly personal. Everyone has a different aesthetic sensibility, and we want to be able to engage a broad spectrum of Japanese art collectors. So how do we combine a large volume of work that’s browsable online with an in-gallery experience? Well, it has to be organized and accessible, so if a collector is looking for a specific print among the thousands in our collections, we will be able to present it to them and make additional recommendations. Through this approach, we’re combining the old world gallery charm that you would expect to find in a Parisian print shop, with innovative digital technology that puts accessibility at the forefront of our collection. 11
Say someone comes into the gallery and they’re not really sure what they’re looking for. How would this process work for them?
Miya Shoji installing shoji screens in the staff workspace.
Those are some of my favorite clients to work with. The value that we add as gallerists is not just preparing exhibitions, it’s really to educate, to consult, to help guide collectors oneon-one. If we do this correctly, the collector doesn’t end up with just an accumulation of art, but a collection of art. In that scenario, we’d probably begin by asking basic questions to help understand their interests. Questions such as subject matter or artists that they admire, price point, their end goal. Are they looking for a single piece or to build a collection? Once we have enough information, we will start curating a selection of prints tailored to them.
The move is quite a short one, really just a matter a blocks. How did you decide on Bryant Park as the permanent home for Ronin Gallery?
Roger Hirsch assesing structural beams.
Ronin Gallery’s collection spans from 16th century Buddhist prints all the way to the contemporary vanguard of Japanese art. So when we looked at our collection, and we looked at where our collectors were, we didn’t feel that there was an obvious neighborhood for the gallery: Chelsea and the Lower East Side are bastions of the contemporary, while the Upper East Side is more traditional. Another consideration in our thought process was that we have been a Midtown gallery for the past 45 years. We didn’t want to completely disregard this legacy. Built by Andrew Carnegie in 1907, 32 West 40th Street is the Old Engineers Club, a historic New York City clubhouse. The space that we purchased was originally the taproom. Complete with 16-foot ceilings and leaded glass windows, there is an immense history to the space. As Ronin Gallery originated in the Explorers Club Mansion, this return to a historical space felt like the gallery was coming home.
Original stained glass windows remain from the taproom of the Engineers Club.
In the clubs of old New York, one would go to share a passion, whether engineering or exploring. Does Ronin Gallery fit it into this history? Absolutely. While the space is an art gallery, it also a place to come together for collectors, professionals, and educators engaged with Japanese woodblock prints. We want the gallery to feel like one of the best-kept secrets in the art world, but at the same time accessible to all. When you walk in, you can feel like youâ€™re part of a club that knows about this gallery, this wonderful collection, and this incredible community of people.
With the rise of art fairs and digital presence, some galleries are closing their physical spaces. Yet, with the new gallery, you’re really doubling down on both the digital and the physical. Why? Why do people go to museums when the Mona Lisa is online? Because seeing a work of art is a physically immersive experience. A lot is lost when you’re looking at it on a screen. With the rise of art fairs, gallerists are bringing the art to people. But there are so many art fairs and websites that collectors are inundated. When you have a physical presence, it grounds the gallery in something that is tangible. I didn’t want to lose that feeling of discovery that comes with handling a work of art – that sense of treasure hunting and exploration.
From museum-grade lighting design to custom-built storage, quality is paramount in the new gallery space. What drove this commitment to detail? As we prepared the new space to be our permanent home, we wanted to do it right. We turned to Toshiko Mori of Harvard University, who pointed us to Roger Hirsch of Hirsch | Corti Architecture. When we met with the firm, they were just as excited about the project as we were. They saw the vision from the beginning and understood that this needed to be a purpose built space. We thought about conservation, operations, logistics, user experience, and ergonomics from the start. Beyond our architect, one of the best decisions we made was to bring in Think Construction, who brought our vision to life and created a conservation quality home for our collection. We have a responsibility to the art, and that is to preserve it. We took this sense of responsibility to the highest level in the physical space. That meant bringing in museum grade lighting. The same can be said for our HVAC system and our choice of materials. We built our archival storage out of yakisugi cypress because it breathes and protects the prints from moisture. We also wanted to save and preserve the historic nature of the space whenever possible.
When someone walks into the gallery, what will they see? What’s the verbal walk through? First of all, you are approaching the building from the majesty of the New York Public Library, one of my favorite buildings in the city, as well as Bryant Park, which has become a vibrant community space: from open-air movies in the summer to ice skating in the winter. As you walk through the wrought iron glass doors of Bryant Park Place, you’ll pass a monumental marble staircase with period stained glass overhead. It’s a special place – a throwback to old New York. Entering the gallery, you will feel transported into the highly designed marriage of Japan and New York that is Ronin Gallery. There is tokonoma, unique in that it incorporates one of the steel Carnegie beams. You will first notice floor-to-ceiling flat file storage drawers, 15-feet high with a library ladder. There is a skylight, Nakashima furniture, exposed brick, and a floating wall separating the private viewing room from the exhibition space. Beyond that are offices and a lower level that houses the operational element of the gallery. In addition, the downstairs will include a Japanese garden.
What are you most looking forward to with the new gallery? I’m excited about it being completed [laughs]. It’s been a very long journey with lots of trials and tribulations. I had the opportunity to design the future home of Ronin Gallery with both my parents, who are the gallery’s founders. The legacy of their involvement
will live on in the space. I’m really excited that this new gallery signifies a continuation and a new beginning for Ronin Gallery. I’m excited to see what comes next and to share it with all of our friends, family, and collectors. But mostly, I’m really excited to see everyone’s face when they walk in. I hope they like it [laughs].
It’s challenging to build a permanent home. What have you learned in the process of this transition? Patience, perseverance, and dedication. I’ve learned so much about construction in New York City. I worked in real estate before coming to the gallery, so I thought I knew what I was getting in to. Fortunately, I had the best team on this project. The Japanese word kaizen means continuous improvement. It’s a term I learned in business school and that I’ve thought about it a lot in this process. Are we doing the best that we can? Can we improve? In thinking about the new space, we constantly asked how we could implement those improvements.
What are your aspirations for the next 45 years? I hope that we’re doing justice to the legacy of Ronin Gallery and the far longer narrative of this collection of Japanese art. I’m excited to continue to bring together the traditional and the contemporary, as well as highlight the connectivity between the two. Also, I think that having a home base creates new opportunities - we can venture into pop-ups, site-specific installations, other galleries in new locations, or bring the gallery to new audiences through art fairs and collaborative exhibitions. Having a headquarters provides the necessary foundation for innovation. I aspire to never stop innovating, to always strive to do better, to promote the art with as much passion and respect as it deserves.
Gallery exhibition space.
Vatrines invite guests for an up-close look at works.
Hirsch | Corti Architecture
Recently named one of the “Top 50 Architect and Designer Firms” by New York Spaces Magazine, Hirsch|Corti Architecture has garnered four prestigious American Institute of Architects Design Awards and the firm’s work has been published in architectural books, professional journals and design magazines internationally. Both partners, Roger Hirsch and Myriam Corti, are overseeing the design of the new Ronin Gallery space.
Think Construction is a full-service general contractor and constructionmanagement firm. They specialize in high-end, intricately designed projects that require meticulous attention to detail. They work with a very close family of vendors and subcontractors who share their values, so that every member of the team is working together to achieve the maximum level of care and performance.
Tillotson Design Associates
One of the leading architectural lighting design firms in the U.S., Tillotson Design Associates has designed the lighting for such prestigious projects as the New Museum in New York, the Broad Museum in LA, the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, as well as the lighting for academic buildings at Columbia, Brown and Cornell universities.
Miya Shoji follows a straightforward aesthetic philosophy: the works of nature and aging are more beautiful than the complex designs of man. This philosophy results in shoji screens, tables and futon mattress frames that appear as organic as tree trunks and chests of drawers with the look of deep-forest artifacts. Miya Shoji’s range of custom-made furniture is at once striking and humble, powerful and subtle.
RONIN GALLERY Bryant Park Place 32 West 40th Street New York, NY 10018 212.688.0188 www.roningallery.com firstname.lastname@example.org Chairman: Herbert Libertson President: David Libertson Executive Director: Roni Neuer Director: Tomomi Seki Associate Director: Madison Folks Associate Director: Travis Suzaka Gallery Assistant: Valentina Vidusin
RONIN GALLERY Bryant Park Place 32 West 40th Street. New York, NY 10018 RoninGallery.com | 212.688.0188 | Ronin@RoninGallery.com The Largest Collection of Japanese Prints in the U.S.