Boo Topographics: I’m Thinking About Those Paintings Where The Eyes Become Real Eyes And Follow You Around The Room

by Bucky Miller October 31, 2022

The terms “cyclopean” and “inverted brutalist ziggurat” call to mind some temple that is scarier than an art museum, yet both are frequent descriptors for the Marcel Breuer-designed landmark at 945 Madison Avenue, Manhattan. The Breuer Building, as it is called, was constructed in the 1960s to house the Whitney Museum of American Art. It performed in that capacity until the Whitney felt cramped and moved to a new location. In 2016 the Met rented it, said it was the Met Breuer, and had some shows before closing due to the pandemic. The Frick Collection, with their Holbeins and such, was next. They just needed a spot to crash for a few years. The Frick’s lease ends in 2023, and upcoming plans for the building have not been made public. But no worries. There is a clear successor.

Spirit Halloween is a hermit crab retailer that sells fake blood and wigs and latex baby zombies. During the lead-up to All Hallow’s Eve they hop into empty commercial properties as short-term lessees. I remember the Spirits of my youth appearing in storefronts relinquished by Ross, Goodwill, and a boot shop. The soon-to-be-vacant Breuer Building features around 30,000 square feet of gallery space, modest for a world-class museum, but right in line with the retail footprints Spirit seeks. Further, the Breuer’s fourth floor boasts 17-foot, 6-inch ceilings. Due to Home Depot’s twelve-foot skeleton becoming a viral smash, big Halloween stuff is in. Imagine the joy in cowering under the lightbulb eyes of a tall werewolf as his nylon fur tangles in Marcel’s famous gridded ceiling. 

Demand in the neighborhood is strong. A Spirit currently inhabits the former Duane Reade on Third Avenue, just off 74th Street. That is a quarter of a mile from 945 Madison. Why not make use of the famous locale that art critic Emily Genauer once dubbed “The Madison Avenue Monster?”

It is likely Spirit could capitalize on the art world pedigree of their newest store. The Breuer Building’s lower level is now a restaurant, but its future tenants would be wise to put art-historical costumes and accessories there. They already sell a Bob Ross outfit for $39.99. The Scream mask — $12.99 online from Spirit — looks similar to Edvard Munch’s The Scream. At one point the Met Breuer exhibited a lithograph of that painting. There is endless potential for synergy. The following artworks, which have all been shown at 945 Madison over the course of its three-institution history, should be cheaply reproduced with creepy eyes that dart back and forth:

Upon my arrival to Spirit Marcel, I stop briefly in the lobby to admire a rack of skeletons adjacent to a built-in sofa. They all have clown hair. Then I head downstairs, make a beeline past the bins of Warhol wigs and the motion-sensor pop-up Donald Judds to the photography section. With no particular agenda, yet in need of a getup, I begin to rummage. There are a thousand variations of Cindy Sherman. A lifelike mask of the Weimaraner Fay Ray is appealing, but outside my budget. At last I find an open-package costume of the photographer Stephen Shore shoved behind some bald caps. In the 1970s, Shore helped establish color photography as an institutionalized art form by driving back and forth across the United States and taking what he called “consciously casual” pictures of things like motels and his breakfast. He’s pretty cool. The costume is left over from last year and priced to move. Lucky me; I can pull this off. Back upstairs at the visitor services desk, a goth teenager with a walkie-talkie headset rings me up for $11.80. In the pristine bathroom I don the ensemble; it is stiff, but oddly cozy. Familiar. Then I go outside to find my Subaru and drive, Texas-bound, through the Holland Tunnel.

Purplish pink photo of a skeleton kneeling next to a person

Bedstuy, New York, September 9, 2022.

Photo of a pumpkin on top of a concrete post

Woodstock, New York, September 11, 2022.

Photo of a skull popping up over a rear view mirror of a car

Windsor Terrace, New York, September 21, 2022.

A skull reflected in a rear view mirror

Patterson, New York, October 6, 2022.

Photo of an old witch

New Marlborough, Massachusetts, October 9, 2022.

A Skeleton looking out the rear window of a van next to a promo of a film

Fort Greene, New York, October 10, 2022.

A skeleton scaling a brick wall

Fort Greene, New York, October 14, 2022.

A ghost suspended above produce at a bodega

Prospect Heights, New York, October 14, 2022.

Photo of a halloween scene with skeletons dancing

Ditmas Park, New York, October 15, 2022.

Halloween scene inspired by Little Shop of Horrors

Winchester, Virginia, October 20, 2022.

A skeleton sitting in a lawn chair in a yard at night

Asheville, North Carolina, October 21, 2022.

Photo of a horror shop in Asheville, North Carolina

Asheville, North Carolina, October 21, 2022.

Photo of a smashed pumpkin

Asheville, North Carolina, October 21, 2022.

Photo of a lawn ornament of a cat dressed up with a pumpkin headband

Asheville, North Carolina, October 21, 2022.

Photo of a skeleton in a window at a gas station

Carnesville, Georgia, October 22, 2022.

Photo of a pumpkin decoration on an outdoor table.

Winterville, Georgia, October 22, 2022.

Photo of Halloween decoration of witch legs on a jar in a kitchen

Madison, Mississippi, October 23, 2022.

A bright yellow halloween sign at a shopping center

Baton Rouge, Louisiana, October 23, 2022.

Photo of an inflatable pumpkin on the side of a highway

Baton Rouge, Louisiana, October 23, 2022.

Photo of the author posing with a skeleton bride

Atchafalaya, Louisiana, October 23, 2022.

Photo of halloween lawn ornaments in a yard

Houston, Texas, October 23, 2022.

Halloween decorations on the facade of a home

Houston, Texas, October 24, 2022.

Photo of witch lights

Austin, Texas, October 26, 2022.

Photo of a cat sitting on a halloween costume

Austin, Texas, October 27, 2022.


All photos by Bucky Miller. See Miller’s past Halloween photoessays here and here

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