By Christopher Breslin
In February, 2020, the Richard Corman photography gallery, on Amsterdam Avenue, between 81st and 82nd Streets, opened as a pop-up store that was only supposed to be around for a few weeks. It was still there in December, 2020, when the Pearce Green art gallery opened right next door.
On a blustery afternoon, I visited both galleries and enjoyed their photography and art, and, just as much, the stories both proprietors told me about themselves, and how they came to have their own galleries.
Richard Corman, 67, is a born-and-bred New Yorker who grew up on the Upper West Side when it was gritty and artistic. He was a classic city street basketball player, who never dreamed of becoming a photographer.
Richard said, “Basketball was my love growing up. I played at every park in the city, but Riverside Park was always my favorite court. My teammates were like my family.”
Richard’s actual family lived on West 78th Street. His father, Harvey, was a psychiatrist, and his mother was the legendary casting director, Cis Corman, who died last year, after casting hundreds of famed films, including Death Wish, Raging Bull, and The Deer Hunter.
It was Cis’s friendship with a young aspiring actress she met while both were studying acting that led to her stellar career. One afternoon, a sixteen-year-old girl walked into the classroom. A self-described ugly duckling and loner, she had taken the subway in from Williamsburg, Brooklyn. She was a student at Erasmus High School, and she wanted fame and fortune.
You guessed it, the precocious sixteen-year-old was Barbra Streisand, and it wasn’t long before she and Cis became best friends. Richard said, “Barbra sang her first song ever in my kitchen. She had never sung [in public] before. The moment she started to sing, my whole family was brought to tears.”
Not long after that day in Richard’s kitchen, Barbra made her Broadway debut, and was nominated for a Tony at 19 years old. From there she went on to super stardom and took her best friend Cis along for the ride. Cis became a casting director, Barbra’s producer, and then the president of Barbra Streisand’s production company, a position she held for decades until her passing.
“Barbra was family,” Richard said. “She was always over, and she was either talking or singing. She sang in every room in our apartment. She was Barbra…what else can I tell you? She was one of a kind.”
I asked Richard how, with such a home life and passion for basketball, he had found his path to photography, and he said, “For my 27th birthday my parents bought me a camera. It was a 25-p 35mm Konica and that started me on my way.”
Richard started working as an assistant for Richard Avedon and then struck some early gold shooting the first shots of Madonna and from that point on, he never stopped taking pictures.
Richard’s gallery is presently full of black-and-white original photographs that range from those of the celebrity world — with bold and sensitive shots of Muhammad Ali, Robert De Niro, Misty Copeland, Michael Jordan, and many others — to athletes of the Special Olympics, which he has photographed for 20 years and is “truly proud of.” He called having a gallery on the Upper West Side, “such a joy.”
I said goodbye and headed for the gallery next door.
Pearce Green’s art gallery is full of bright and colorful original paintings from this special artist who is a recent college graduate and, amazingly, all of 22 years old.
I asked Pearce to describe his work and he said, “It’s modern pop culture, that’s the best way for me to explain it.”
Pearce’s gallery is a warm hub of creativity nestled into a storefront where his girlfriend Mia serves as the gallery’s manager.
Pearce said, “having my own gallery is so exciting and a lot of people are coming in. I do all my painting right here in the gallery. I also do my sales here and I still can’t believe it.”
Pearce never imagined himself becoming a painter. All Pearce ever dreamed of being while growing up was a writer. He lived on West 70th Street and Broadway with his parents. His father, Colton, was an actor, and his mother, Elizabeth, was a Latin ball room dancer. In high school, Pearce attended the Dalton school and for college he went to the University of Iowa to study literature.
After college, Pearce moved back home and put down his writing pen in favor of a paint brush. Soon his family’s apartment became overcrowded with his original works and, one afternoon, while his mother was walking on Amsterdam Avenue, she noticed the vacant store and, with some hope of getting some space back in her apartment, she inquired with the landlord and they quickly made a deal. The Peace Green gallery was born. Pearce pays his mom what he can.
Pearce said, “I had to find a way to channel my creativity and painting was the best way for me. My mom did it, but without the Sofia family none of this would be possible.”
I spoke with the landlord, Leonard Sofia, and he said, “We love both these galleries. They are a nice addition to the neighborhood. We are happy for them.”
Outside on the street I stopped a woman named Jessica who was walking with her young child and asked her what she thought of the two galleries, and she replied, “I pass by them daily and I have not stopped in yet, but I really think there should be more places like this. We certainly have enough banks.”
Another person I stopped named Joanie who was now looking into the window of the Corman gallery and who worked in fashion said, “I have been into both galleries. They are nice additions to the neighborhood.”
Both galleries are very happy that they are surviving during these difficult times and now with spring in the air and the pandemic slowly starting to lift they both hope to keep their doors open for a long time and keep art alive in the neighborhood they grew up in and love.