2001-2004 | One of the 6-person art committee in charge of developing the art collection and art programming for the under-construction Maria Fareri Children’s Hospital.
With a gift from Steven and Roberta Denning that was earmarked for art, the hospital collected “Children’s Symphony.”
Valhalla – SPADICIA HARRIS was beaming. She was spending her last day at the Maria Fareri Children’s Hospital at the Westchester Medical Center, where she had been hospitalized for cancer treatment since November. Spadicia, an 8-year-old from Antigua, talked about one feature of the hospital that she may miss — the original artwork.
“I love it,” she said, as she stood near a large black-and-white crayon drawing of a ballet dancer by the contemporary American artist Karen Kilimnik.
The title of the drawing, with its tutu made of black glitter, was “The Fairy of Bravery Endows the Princess With Self-Assuredness.” The title was particularly poignant in the oncology unit, where children like Spadicia endure frequent rounds of chemotherapy, surgery and other procedures.
A hospital may seem an unlikely place for art usually found in Chelsea galleries or the Whitney Biennial. But the children’s hospital, which opened in September 2004, has an outstanding contemporary collection devoted to both well-known and emerging artists like Ed Ruscha, Chris Ofili, Jeff Koons and Rachel Harrison.
Each of the three floors has its treasures and more are coming, said Kenise Barnes, a Larchmont gallery owner and art consultant who is a member of the children’s hospital art committee.
The six-member committee was formed five years ago to lay the groundwork for an arts therapy program that would do more than surround children with painted rainbows and sunny skies. The committee pledged to seek out high-quality contemporary art that would provide solace and inspiration to patients, their families and hospital staff members, said Jan Mittan, executive director of the Children’s Hospital Foundation.
“Art is such a vital piece of the treatment program,” Ms. Mittan said. “We’re touching the lives of these really sick kids and their families at the heights and depths of their emotions.” The hospital depends entirely on private funds and major donors for the art program, Ms. Mittan said.
One such significant donor is Martin Eisenberg of Scarsdale, a vice president of Bed Bath & Beyond who is a member of the art committee.
Mr. Eisenberg, whose father, Warren Eisenberg, helped to found the Bed Bath & Beyond chain in 1971, is a collector who knows his way around the contemporary art market. “He said he’d be involved only if it was ‘good art,’ ” Ms. Mittan said, smiling. As it turns out, she added, “without his and his family’s involvement, I’m not sure where we would be today.”
Mr. Eisenberg, 51, says he finds art for the hospital much the way he and his wife, Rebecca, find their own art: “I turn to the artists I admire and the galleries I admire.” He is on the drawing committee of the Museum of Modern Art, the acquisition committee of the Studio Museum in Harlem and the board of the Center for Curatorial Studies at Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson.
The collection’s cuddlier images include an acrylic painting of a giraffe by Dave Muller in the emergency room, serigraphic prints of two pandas by Rob Pruitt on an upper floor, and photographs of pets by Hirsch Perlman that children can hang in their rooms. But the art is not geared primarily to children.
“I said, we’re not going to dumb it down to kids, it’s going to reflect our tastes,” Mr. Eisenberg said. Nor does he kowtow to parents, some of whom, he said, object to seeing Elizabeth Peyton’s portrait of the rapper Eminem in a waiting room.
Mr. Eisenberg helped devise what Ms. Mittan called a “clean and pristine plan” for the hospital’s art program, focusing on work by primarily young and cutting-edge artists. Many of the artists donated their work to the hospital, as did some galleries and museums. In addition, the Eisenbergs, along with other donors, lent the hospital works from their personal collections. Ms. Mittan estimated the value of the hospital’s current collection at $1.75 million. Funds for the program, including insurance premiums, are all donated. Ms. Harrison, whom Mr. Eisenberg called “one of my favorite artists,” donated “Sunsets,” a series of color photographs based on a picture postcard.
“I contributed the work because Marty asked me to,” Ms. Harrison, who grew up in Hastings-on-Hudson, wrote in an e-mail message. “Who doesn’t want to help sick kids?”
On a recent tour of the artwork, Mr. Eisenberg started with a giant, curving saltwater aquarium in the lobby that is based on a design he commissioned from Vito Acconci. With a pathway between its two sections that is wide enough for wheelchairs and gurneys, it is popular with patients and visitors alike.
Another eye-popping work in the lobby is a fanciful baroque bridge, “Satinstein,” by Rachel Feinstein, which hangs over a small stage.
Explanatory plaques hanging at a child’s eye level next to the artworks were written by Jessica Anenberg, a child-life specialist who coordinates the hospital’s art studio. Ms. Anenberg said she took young patients to see works like Mr. Koons’s playful “Cut Out” or Kelley Walker’s “Marantz Turntable,” a print suggestive of music, in the hope that they would be stimulated to express themselves in paint, clay or printmaking.
“It gives them an outlet if they’re going through a difficult diagnosis or a new therapy,” she said.