Two Art Galleries on Amsterdam; The Stories Within the Stores (What’s Barbra Streisand Got to Do With It?)

Richard Corman Photography Gallery.

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.”

Richard Corman and his “Greatest” photograph.

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 Art.

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.

Pearce and Mia.

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.”
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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.

 

ART, NEWS | 15 comments | permalink
    1. spyros venduras says:

      Interesting,You have a nice way writing.

    2. Felice says:

      Great article! I didn’t realize those galleries were there. Now I will be sure to visit!,

    3. Rena says:

      Wow! No idea this was on the uws. Can’t wait to check it out. Great article!!

    4. Annie says:

      Love these stories, and so perfectly timed to bring vitality back to the streets.

    5. Paige Stein says:

      As a former Upper West Side resident who still cares deeply about my old neighborhood, this story – unlike most of what I read on a daily basis – made me feel hopeful about what the future holds for the city I love. New Yorkers are nothing if not resilient and share a rich rich history in the arts – both fine and performing. All that comes through in this uplifting New York story.

    6. George Hirsch says:

      Nice piece!

    7. This piece and it rightful glorification of art, culture and the stories of so many people who create and foster it is Marvelous…

    8. Cato says:

      The Brooklyn school Ms Streisand attended (before she dropped the second “a” in her first name) was Erasmus *Hall* High School, founded in 1787. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Erasmus_Hall_High_School.

      Others who attended or graduated were Bobby Fischer, Neil Diamond, Eli Wallach, Mae West, Moe Howard and many others.

      • UWS_lifer says:

        Very cool. Thanks for pointing this out.

        The amount of noteworthy people growing up in Brooklyn in the 20th Century really was amazing.

        Maybe something in the water?:)

    9. Brent Katz says:

      Great article. Really interesting story and well written. I can’t wait to visit thee galleries.

    10. risa garcia says:

      Great article!
      Can’t wait to check out both of the galleries!

    11. James says:

      Great Nyc stories is what the city needs now more than ever. Its has 💌

    12. Yoko Oh NO! says:

      Re: “The moment she started to sing, my whole family was brought to tears.”
      Hmmm…same thing happens when I “sing”, only it’s tears of pain, punctuated by cries of “STOP! Please STOP!” while dogs start to howl and cats yowl.
      Can’t figure out why!

    13. Jennifer Geltman says:

      Great piece. I want to visit these galleries next time I’m in NYC

    14. Elizabeth Coppola says:

      Such an interesting article of art galleries I’ve walked by many times without knowing the fascinating facts of the history of the owners and how they got started. The writing pulled me in immediately. So fluid and descriptive I could just see “Babs” taking the train in from Williamsburg and singing all day in their apartment. Wonderful!!