Bettina Grossman, an artist who took up residence at New York’s legendary Chelsea Hotel and developed a small but growing following in her later years, has passed away. Grossman often dodged questions related to her biography, making details such as her age difficult to ascertain, but she probably would have been in her 90s.
Artist Yto Barrada, who oversees a catalog raisonné of Grossman’s work, announced the news of Grossman’s death on Instagram. “She has touched many of us in so many ways,” Barrada wrote.
Grossman was the oldest living participant in the current edition of the Greater New York quinquennial, which opened last month at MoMA PS1 in New York. At that exhibition, Grossman . shows Phenomenology Project (1979-1980), a photo series in which the artist captured distorted visions of New York, as reflected in several windows around the city.
In addition to these types of works, Grossman produced more mysterious sculptures, drawings, prints and more that are easy to analyze. At the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council art center on Governors Island, as part of a 2019 two-person exhibition with Barrada hosted by Omar Berrada, Grossman exhibited a series of wooden sculptures that resembled long-lost artifacts. These sleek, sloping artifacts were displayed on pedestals, along with minimalist marble objects of the kind currently on display on PS1. (Barrada also showcased Grossman’s work alongside her own in a 2020 exhibition at the Sfeir-Semler Gallery in Hamburg, Germany.)
“I was introduced to the work of Bettina Grossman through the incredible efforts of Yto Barrada,” said Ruba Katrib, one of the curators of this year’s Greater New York exhibition. “If you take a closer look at Bettina’s output, it’s clear that she was a prolific and resourceful artist who pioneered conceptual art practices early on in inventive ways. It was very inspiring to see younger generations of artists really connecting with her work in ‘Greater New York’, assuring me that she will be recognized and remembered for her brilliance and verve.”
Although Grossman showed her work periodically, it took until the past year and a half for her work to come to the attention of the wider world. Born in 1928, Grossman lived much of her life as a hermit, spending decades locked in room 503 of the Chelsea Hotel, which hosted a range of artistic figures from Mark Twain to Valerie Solanas. She plastered her door with artwork and mysterious bits of text, including one that read “Help me, I’m getting killed.”
Within that unit, Grossman had stored decades of work. It was an astonishing amount of art, especially when you consider that a fire in 1968 destroyed some of its production. When artist Sam Bassett gained access to Grossman’s apartment in 2007, he was impressed by what he saw and decided to make a documentary about Grossman entitled Bettina.
“I could see right away how brilliant she was, even though she had basically retreated into solitude for 30 years,” Bassett told the BBC. New York Times. “She lived in her hallway, surrounded by all these boxes, but inside, hidden, was this incredible body of work. Really, she was choking on her own magnificence.”
Grossman gained a strange kind of fame. She appeared on a Mental Floss article titled ‘7 Famous Hoarders’ and hit the headlines in 2006 when the owners of the Chelsea Hotel tried to evict her because of the condition of her apartment. A judge denied that request.
Grossman’s work could receive even more recognition in the future. On Instagram, Berrada said that Barrada’s catalog raisonné will be published next year.