‘I found thoughtfulness and politeness in Glasgow. You don’t see that in New York’

By Ian Marland at

I am sitting in a beautifully appointed West End apartment listening to the urbane American tones of Phillip A Bruno.

Phillip is the French-born gallery director and art collector who spent his working life in the melting plot that is New York.

Now 89, my genial host is telling me how he has made Glasgow his permanent home thanks to his wife, the art critic and writer Clare Henry.

Clare, who wrote for The Herald for many years, kept her West End home when she started a new life across the Atlantic.

She would eventually meet Phillip and the couple were married in New York in 2002.

The façt that their union had a feature write-up in the New York Times tells you all you need to know.

Phillip and Clare

Phillip and Clare on their wedding day in New York in 2002

“On my retirement I was very happy to walk three or four steps behind Clare here in Glasgow – no wonder I felt so at home.

He says Clare has been “pivotal in my happiness”.

“And I love the view and the garden here. And then there’s the tennis club and the gym.

“The gym manager has become a great friend of mine. I have made some wonderful friends here.”

Phillip makes friends easily, and did so throughout his long and illustrious career in one of the world’s great art cities.

Maybe it’s his generosity that has endeared him to so many artists, friends and clients over the years.

Picasso

His latest act of giving is his gift of 75 contemporary works to the Hunterian gallery in Glasgow.

In all, he has made benevolent gifts of art to more than 25 galleries across the world over his working life.

“I never had the wall space for all these things.

“I had a graphic collection. Leonard Baskin was one of the most well-known and respected graphic artists.

“And I had the Dream and Lie of Franco (by Picasso) but I couldn’t live with it so after two years I gave those away.

“They were too disturbing. They conveyed the hatred of war.”

Phillip and Clare

Phillip and Clare against the Manhattan skyline

Phillip made his name in the art scene at a young age. His intent and natural ability to meet and get on with people was evident at 19.

Then, a student at Columbia University, he tracked down the descendants of Vincent Van Gogh who were in town for an exhibition of the artist.

“I caught up with Van Gogh’s nephew at his New York hotel.

“I was only 19, I just had to meet him and invite him to talk to the students at Columbia.

“He did and then he asked me to stay with the family in Holland, which I did.

“My bedroom at the house had four paintings by Van Gogh and overlooked a garden with sunflowers.”

‘Pilgrimage’

Phillip says he was never blessed as an artist but was blessed with the sensibility to understand and appreciate their work.

He also had a love of architecture and his interests came together under the Manhattan skyline.

He was a former co-director of the Staempfli Gallery, and later the Marlborough Gallery, both important venues for contemporary art.

Over his career he acquired and was gifted many works by artists who wanted to thank him for his services.

“The art world was a pilgrimage and I am still looking.

“Our old apartment (in New York) was a museum. Every picture was well lit. Every sculpture was well placed.”

Clare and Phillip

At home, Phillip and Clare in their new life together in the West End

Phillip first came to Glasgow in the 1980s, on one of his many international art travels.

“I was always a great admirer of Mackintosh’s work.

“And I was invited to come to Glasgow, and the building I wanted to see was the Charles Rennie Mackintosh School of Art.

“I never judged anywhere where I travelled. You just accept it for what it was and you participate in a place.”

And his first impressions of Glasgow have been lasting.

“I found here an extraordinary element of thoughtfulness and politeness. The way that cars are driven here and the politeness between the drivers.

“When my son came to visit, one of the first things he said was ‘Pa, the drivers are so polite’.”

‘The building I wanted to see was the Charles Rennie Mackintosh School of Art.

‘I never judged anywhere where I travelled. You just accept it for what it was and you participate in a place’

Phillip A Bruno

And those touches of Scottish hospitality still strike him.

“I walked into a cafe the other day nearby with my walker (walking frame) and a couple saw me and they got up and said ‘take this table, we’ll eat outside’.

“You don’t see that in New York!”

Phillip was born in Paris but was raised in the US. His father dealt in provincial French furniture but Phillip took a different course in life.

Paris was an essential influence on his development, giving him an early appreciation of European art and its influence on the New York School in the post-war years.

One of his great passions as his career developed was public art.

art work

Public art is a major passion of Phillip’s. Masayuki Nagare, Nagare Bachi, 1974. Image courtesy the artist

Phillip says: “There was a Masayuki Nagare exhibition that George Staempfli and I organised at the Staempfli Gallery.

“Two pivotal works at the north end of the gallery and at the south end were nine foot versions of a piece I have given the Hunterian.

“I was able to interest the Foundation director and the Foundation bought the two nine-foot statues.

“They are now on the balcony of the Opera House at Lincoln Centre.

“Nagare was interested that they were placed there and I was interested that I had sold them.”

When it’s suggested that he has left his mark on New York, he says: “I would never say that, but I hope I have.”

Documentary

Clare thinks he has because he was an early convert to the power of public art.

“Phillip organised some of the sculptures that were at the World Trade Center, which of course are no longer.” she says.

“He organised the Koenig Sphere which was the only piece to survive the attacks of 9/11.”

Phillip shows me a gift from Fritz Koenig, the German artist who was commissioned to adorn the Trade Towers.

Phillip was also a friend of the architect Minoru Yamasaki who designed the towers.

He joined Yamasaki a number of times on site during the skyscrapers’ construction.

“I was asked by the German Ambassador to take part in a documentary after the 9/11 attack.

Sculpture in Battery Park, New York

Fritz Koenig’s The Sphere which originally stood between the Trade Towers. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

“It showed the making of this giant sculpture. The film would end with someone looking into the damaged sculpture.

“And I was asked if I would participate.

“The damaged Koenig globe was in a high security area in the old LaGuardia Airport.

“One day I was telephoned. ‘Would I come down?’ Two security guards picked me up and we drove – and I’m still emotional about it.

“As I we approached I saw there was a ladder leaning against the sculpture.

“And I was asked if I could climb the ladder to look in.

“And I climbed the ladder – I was on film all the time. I looked into that damaged sculpture …

“I saw letters and broken desks, broken chairs. It was just a terrible encapsulation of that disaster for New York and the beginning of new awareness of worldwide disasters.”

But it is brief moment of sadness. Phillip and Clare love turning back the clock and the family album.

It is clear moving away from the States has been hard. They have left so many friends behind.

‘I saw letters and broken desks, broken chairs.

‘It was just a terrible encapsulation of that disaster for New York and the beginning of new awareness of worldwide disasters’

Phillip A Bruno

Clare has a son and a daughter in Glasgow and two grandchildren who are a big part of her and Phillip’s life.

The home, or rather the homes, they shared in New York and the house they bought together in upstate New York seemed idyllic.

The house in the country was a very special place.

Clare says: “It’s been a great wrench selling the house.

“We loved the house, we had done it together you see.

“It was two hours north of New York.

“We had a huge array of interesting friends; architects, writers. It was just beautiful.”

Clare has put together a catalogue on Maple Creek, the house, with beautiful photographs.

Her layout skills and eye for detail come naturally. She was a print maker and one of the founding members of the Glasgow Print Studio.

They both tell the story of how they came to buy the house. They had just met and were living in Phillip’s Manhattan apartment.

Phillip and Clare on their wedding day in 2002

The couple had many friends in New York. Their wedding made the pages of the New York Times

But Clare said she wanted them to find a place that they could call their own.

Phillip said: “So I said go ahead, and she found a place for us outside of New York.

“She rang the office one day. I couldn’t take the call, but she rang back an hour later.

“She said ‘I’ve found it, it’s an old house, it’s on a slight hill. It has a view, beamed ceilings, wide floors, giant fireplace – you will love it!’

“And she said, I will buy half – and if you don’t I’ll find somebody who will!”

Phillip recalls: “I pleaded pneumonia the next day and took the train to Hudson, which is a marvellous town.

‘Interesting friends’

“It was the Fall and the foliage in New England is just superb.

“Clare went to the house, opened the door, and there were the beams, wide floor boards and the view. Sold!”

Phillip is 90 this Christmas. Travelling between New York and Glasgow to see family had become increasingly challenging in recent years.

“In the beginning it was very easy to hop to and fro, but now it’s just a nightmare to get on a plane.”

Clare said you need be younger to live in New York.

“We had our house for 20 years and we had so many interesting friends.”

But the couple have plenty of friends in Glasgow. Some of them old and some of them new.

House and garden pictures

The couple’s beloved home Maple Creek in New York state

“Rosemary Beaton did his portrait. Phillip already has a network of friends here in Glasgow.

“He has continued his links with artists. He knows Adrian Wiszniewski. Sam Ainsley gave us those flowers.”

Clare said: “Thank God, Phillip loves Glasgow, he absolutely loves it.”

* A Gift to Glasgow from New York: The Phillip A. Bruno Collection, October 18, 2019 – January 12, 2020, Hunterian Art Gallery. Admission free.