Art November 29, 2010 By Derek Peck
Robert Modica, studio 808 By Josef Birdman Astor

Robert Modica, studio 808 By Josef Birdman Astor (Click to enlarge)

occupied several large studios on the 8th floor; the little tutus and buttercups were always darting around the 8th floor hallways. At the other end of the hall were two acting schools – Wynn Handman and Robert X Modica – both very respected teachers. The students in Mr Modica’s room could be heard screaming at all hours of the night, working on their method techniques.
     When I first moved in, Ruth Gordon and Garson Kanin had the studio just next to mine. Bobby Short had lived in my studio for a while, and Ballet Arts (once the most famous dance studio in the city – Isadora Duncan, Agnes de Mille, Balanchine) was a few doors down the hall. Many of the legends of the studios had faded away by the time I moved in, so instead of regretting that I missed the heyday I began documenting what remained, to try and preserve what was left of its original ambience.

Was there anyone living in the building at the time that you felt particularly inspired by, or that you considered a major artist?:
That would have to be concert pianist Donald Shirley, and the poet Elizabeth Sargent, who became real friends and provided constant inspiration and still do to this day. Donald Shirley was one of the first black concert pianists – he enlightened me with the story of how he was denied the concert career he trained his whole life for because Columbia Artists told him the world could not accept a black concert pianist. But he finally got there by going ‘though the back doors of the nightclubs’ and eventually playing numerous dates in the main hall of Carnegie Hall.

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