September 4, 2019

Bainbridge House to Reopen With Neighborhood Block Party

BLENDING THE OLD AND THE NEW: Princeton University Art Museum has reimagined Bainbridge House, one of Princeton’s remaining 18th century buildings, into a gallery space for contemporary and emerging artists. (Photo by Emile Askey courtesy of the Princeton University Art Museum)

By Anne Levin

The renovations are complete. Bainbridge House, the red brick, Georgian-style building at 158 Nassau Street, is ready to reopen as a public viewing space programmed by the Princeton University Art Museum. On Saturday, September 14 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., a block party for the community will celebrate the new life of the historic structure, rechristened Art@Bainbridge.

The Museum plans to use the first floor as gallery space for displaying the work of contemporary artists. The first installation, “Jordan Nassar: Between Sky and Earth,” shows works created by the 34-year-old artist during the last five years.

This focus on the new is intentional. It contrasts the notable history of Bainbridge House, which stretches back to the mid-1700s and includes years as lodging for members of the Continental Congress in 1783. Earlier, it served as the home and medical office of Absalom Bainbridge, an enslaved person who successfully battled for freedom.

“This space will always be for contemporary, emerging artists, which is a juxtaposition to that history that is so important,” said Curtis R. Scott, associate director for publishing and communications at the Museum, during a tour last week. In a press release, the Museum’s director James Steward said, “This beautifully restored and updated historic building represents the institution’s ongoing commitment to examining the powerful work of today’s most exciting practitioners as it relates to our shared histories, values, and concerns.”

The ground floor galleries are also intended as a meeting space for Museum programs, community gatherings, and partnerships with neighbors such as the Princeton Garden Theatre and Labyrinth Books. The Museum’s education department will occupy the upper floors.

It its first year, Art@Bainbridge will offer a series of shows centered around the theme of shelter. “These presentations will consider ideas of shelter and domesticity in the context of a recently restored colonial-era home,” the press release reads, “as well as wider implications of the theme as it relates to belonging, the construction of identity, and the arts as a site of refuge.”

Nassar’s landscapes and geometric compositions “reflect his exploration of landscape as a representation of both a geographic location and an abstract idea of home,” it continues. The inaugural exhibit opens the day of the block party and runs through January 5, 2020.

Princeton University has owned Bainbridge House since 1877. It is one of the oldest houses in town, dating back to 1766. The building was the library’s first home, from 1909 to 1966. The Historical Society moved in a year later, and stayed until relocating to Updike Farmstead in 2015. Most of the original structure of Bainbridge House is in place, including the original wall paneling, fireplace mantels and surrounds, doors, and staircase. Some of the historic fabric was restored during the renovation project, which also included an upgrade of electrical systems.

Extra gallery space will be welcome as the Museum prepares to close for a massive expansion project, targeted to begin in early 2021 and last approximately three years. “The gallery space here is different from the Museum,” said Scott. “The idea was to create more of a gallery vibe. The text on the walls will be less didactic. It won’t be as intense as what is on the walls in the Museum.”

Admission to the block party is free. Visitors will have a chance to inspect the entire Bainbridge building, some of which has previously been off limits to the public. There will be exhibition tours, family-friendly activities, live music, and participation by neighboring shops and businesses.