Louise Mirrer: NYT Features Home of the President of the NY Historical Society

THE most telling detail about Louise Mirrer's maisonette on Beekman Place isn't the rough fresco over the door that's clearly a homage to early Christian imagery - or the winsome gaslights that flank the door's Gothic shape and leaded-glass panels. (Ms. Mirrer, an academic, is a medievalist and particularly drawn to these flourishes.)

Nor is it the odd symmetry that links this maisonette, built in 1925 as part of an apartment house on the site of the old Beekman estate - east of First Avenue, near 51st Street - to Ms. Mirrer's current job as president of the New-York Historical Society. The Beekmans were founding members of the society in 1804, and descendants have been on its board for most of its history.

No, the most telling and piquant fact about this maisonette, which Ms. Mirrer shares with her husband, the sociologist David Halle, and their three children - one of whom, Philip, 23, is off at law school - is that there are practically no paintings on the walls.

Two small pieces are hung in a by-the-way manner under the stairs: a pastel portrait of the couple's younger son, Malcolm, 16, painted by Mr. Halle's "patron," the artist LeRoy Neiman, and a caricature of Mr. Halle giving a lecture, also by Mr. Neiman. Ms. Mirrer used the word patron to describe Mr. Neiman because Mr. Halle, a professor at U.C.L.A., works there in the LeRoy Neiman Center for the Study of American Society and Culture. (He commutes home each weekend.) Also, she and Mr. Halle collaborated on a monograph about Mr. Neiman called "Prints of Power" published by Knoedler in 1991. But we digress.

The reason for the almost painting-free environment harks back to Mr. Halle's 1996 book, "Inside Culture: Art and Class in the American Home," published by the University of Chicago Press. In it, he explored the homes of upper-middle- and working-class New Yorkers and analyzed what they hung on their walls. His conclusion was that most people, regardless of their place in society, hang the same stuff - and that stuff, in his view, is pretty banal, mostly landscapes and family portraits.

"So he sort of banned art at home," Ms. Mirrer explained. "And for a while we became personae non gratae in everyone else's home because they were afraid their choices would be pronounced banal. As it turns out, it's only my taste that was banal."...

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