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Murray Moss: The Radical Gallerist Who Transformed Design

For years, one space in New York’s SoHo neighborhood was considered hallowed ground for lovers of design. On this episode, Dan speaks with its founder, Murray Moss, on how it all happened, living with Parkinson’s, and the one thing he loves in his collection that’s absolutely worthless.

June 12, 2024 By THE GRAND TOURIST
Photo: Erin Williams


For years, one space in New York’s SoHo neighborhood was considered hallowed ground for lovers of design: Moss. It mixed high and low, introduced radical new talents to the industry, was beloved by the media, and changed the conversation and level of expectations forever. On this episode, Dan speaks with its founder, Murray Moss, on how it all happened, his first career in fashion, living with Parkinson’s, and the one thing he loves in his collection that’s absolutely worthless.

Listen to this episode


Murray Moss: If you put something locked behind a glass case, it’s probably people will think because that’s where the expensive stuff is. But that wasn’t, I was indiscriminate. I would put something very expensive next to a bottle opener. So also it suggested that the arrangement was necessary to be preserved. You couldn’t mess it around, pick it up and put it down someplace else. There was a, you advanced a notch when we unlocked the case. It was really just, it was totally Machiavellian manipulation.

Dan Rubinstein: Hi, I’m Dan Rubinstein, and this is The Grand Tourist. I’ve been a design journalist for more than 20 years, and this is my personalized guided tour through the worlds of fashion, art, architecture, food, and travel, all the elements of a well-lived life. Back when I was an assistant at House & Garden around 2003 to 2005, I worked for Mayer Rus, the magazine’s design editor. Mayer’s taste level was extraordinary, like any great designer, he could mix high and low, respectable and transgressive. He’d constantly be jetting around the globe shooting this house or that pied-a-terre. He could get his hands on just about anything. He had the access.

But there was one place he would return to again and again, part gallery, part shop, part concept boutique. It was one of a kind, a place called Moss, in the heart of New York’s SoHo neighborhood. It was a simple storefront white space with big windows, just like any other in the famous neighborhood. Its size grew and shrank over the years, but what made it stand out was its raison d’etre, which was new, exciting. It broke rules. It adhered to old ones. It looked like a damn shop, but it felt like a small museum of very cool things. The man who was behind It all is my guest today, Murray Moss.

Run by Murray with an assist from his longtime partner, and not to mention former award-winning TV executive, Franklin Getchell, Moss was a pivotal, legendary, and downright delightful nexus of art and design. So many roads today in the industry, collectible design culture lead back to him and that store. Murray was rarely seen in anything but a black suit with a white shirt, my memory serves. He not only ran the small design mecca, but over time his reputation allowed him to consult and collaborate with the world’s best brands and style and craft. He commissioned huge works by the hottest talents around, sometimes site-specific, and sometimes for an exhibit in his gallery, or shop, gallery, let’s go with gallery.

Moss closed in 2012, followed by a smaller office called Moss Bureau, that was more concept than concept shop. Today, semi-retired from design, but still with an enviable list of consulting clients. He lives in Connecticut with Franklin, in a country home filled with, of course, curious objects that have been documented extensively. Murray’s past decade or so has been tempered by a Parkinson’s diagnosis, but his spirit, not to mention sense of humor and wit has dulled. So if you think of yourself as someone who knows design well or wants to listen up, class is in session. I caught up with Murray from his home in Connecticut to discuss his start as an inspiring actor, his first real career in fashion, his gallery’s secret sauce, living with Parkinson’s, and the one worthless object he absolutely loves.


I just want to jump right in. Of course, people in New York know you for your store and your gallery called Moss, that was in SoHo for many years, and then Moss Bureau, which was your consultancy, which was an office in New York, which also had a gallery. But before I did some of my homework for this, I didn’t really know too much about your life before, and you entered my consciousness as an instant mogul in my mind. When I first entered the shop, I think I literally went into the store for the first time to pick up something from my old boss, Mayer Rus, if I’m not mistaken.

Oh, my God. Yeah.

Yeah. And you’re originally from Chicago?


Tell me about that.

Well, if I’m self-conscious about the Midwest, I say Chicago, but I’m really from Lincolnwood, Illinois.

Oh, okay.

Which is a small suburb, named in honor of Abraham Lincoln. And so I was born in Chicago, and I was raised there for 10 years. So then we moved to a suburb for this school thing. And that’s when I realized it was necessary to come to New York. Because Chicago, I have brothers and sisters, and everyone felt that Chicago, they always responded to, “Where are you from in Chicago?” As if they had to apologize for it, as if it was like a second city kind of situation.

But I knew I chose the university specifically to go to New York. I ran to New York, absolutely ran to New York, although I had a great childhood and a wonderful parental situation. And my siblings, I loved all of them, but I really couldn’t wait to get out of there. Not that there was anything wrong with the city of course or anything.

But I don’t know, I just needed to get, in fact, and my parents were not sort of helicopter parents, so I don’t think they knew I left when I just flew, I got a ticket and flew to New York. A month early I had read the opening of the university wrong, so I checked into the hotel, and I was off and running. It was funny, but I remember that I figured out, or I intuited that if I get here, if I could just get here, then things would take care of themselves.

And I remember a year, the following year in December, I found myself seated at Sardis on New Year’s Eve, next to Paul Newman. And I thought, “God, it’s true.” And all you have to do is I thought you go out and you just go for a walk to pick up the newspaper and something’s going to happen to you. And I still have that, perhaps romanticized, but really loving relationship toward New York, which of course, we don’t live there anymore now, but for 50 years we did.

And when you got to New York after you dined adjacent to Mr. Newman, you were studying theater if I

Yeah. Well, I had a deal with my parents. I wanted to be an actor since I was probably six. And I did all sorts of things that at the time when you become of this age, you could join this, when you come of this age, there’s a program for that. So I did all those things in order to be able to get admission to a good drama school. And I wanted it absolutely to be in New York, which left NYU and Columbia. But my parents asked politely if I would please go to Columbia for the first couple of years to get the education, and then general studies, and then I switched to New York University School of the Arts.

And in that same Times article that I referenced earlier, you said that you did a lot of experimental theater, and you told them that you would do anything on stage and you’d go so far that you’d pass out. And it was interesting because you were in a relationship with a respected psychiatrist at the time.

Gee, that’s really a juicy article.

It is a juicy article, and I was like, “Wow.” But you were doing experimental theater, and tell me about that, you really were passionate about it obviously if you would pass out.

Well, more than pass out, this was, what year would this be? This would be 1970, around there. And after I had done the two years at Columbia. And the theater at that time was owned, the theater was owned by the actors. It was really an actor driven, playwrights would sit and watch, and actors would develop dialogue that they would… But it was really an actor’s moment.

And I always wanted to be an actor. And this was what I used to call with Franklin, The Barefoot Theater. It was heavily subsidized. You would go for two years and develop a one-act play, living in a Rockefeller estate. I mean, I don’t mean to be cynical about it, it was glorious, but that was only possible under those circumstances. And yeah, that was… I forgot what the question was, if there was-

Well, I mean, what was it like, what kind of work were you doing in terms of theater and things like that?

Well, there were several theater companies that were developing at that time all around the world, Grotowski. And Joe Chaikin with The Open Theater, and Joe engaged me to be part of The Open Theater. So I had a legitimate gig, I mean I was with a company. And I remember we did, for two years, we developed a play called The Fable, where early on, and Jean-Claude van Itallie was writing it.

And I remember at a certain point you had to choose kind of something about the character you were developing. So I decided that my character, since it was the play we were given the title in advance was called The Fable, I decided that I would be the character called, The Man Who Lives Under a Rock. Well, what happened was I got inside a cardboard box and I didn’t come out again for two years because I made a really bad choice.

And for the first day it was funny, and I got all the attention because I was trying to get out of the box, do you punch a hole? Do you put a this or a that? But then I was dead, I was over. So my instincts were not perhaps particularly in line with what to expect when you’re doing that theater, but Joe Chaikin, Andre Gregory, that was sort of where I was living with those people.

And in the ’80s, and I guess late ’70s into the ’80s, you worked on a line of clothing, and that’s a part of your career that I know almost nothing about. Can you explain how you decided, “I’m going to leave the cardboard box and start doing fashion.”

Well, I’m glad there’s something that was left out my story. But I mean to go just blow-by-blow very quickly what the facts were, was it was 1977, and I came thereabouts into a bit of family money, and I wanted to do something. And I told, unfortunately, a friend of mine, “Hey, I just came into this money.” And he said, “You have to back this fashion designer that I know.” So I don’t know anything about fashion. So I said, “Great, done.”

Okay, so I met Ron Shamask, Ronaldus Shamask, who was in fact extraordinarily talented, a very hugely gifted person. And so I founded a fashion company, and it was called Moss Shamask. And I don’t know anything about how to do that. And by the way, after the first year I lost all my money, but then I, “Oh, no, it’s right.” But then I sort of gained it back because we were, from the first moment we did this opening, we were celebrated as stars. I mean, it was a big thing. And Bill Cunningham wrote a special raiment for the ceremonial private life.

So we made these clothes only in five weights of white and black linen. It was super great, really a beautiful thing. And the first collection went to the Met, and it was a whole thing. But then I had to make it, all these people showed up. And that’s where I had to dig in, and that took 12 years. But it was very, very, very hard work, and it took a lot of cigarettes. That was my cigarette era. And then I sold the trademarks to a company for various reasons I won’t go into. But I sold the trademarks in 1989, 1990, and I was out.

And I think between ’90, and I think you opened Moss in ’94. So what was that sort of period in between like, was it sort of a soul-searching time?

Well, it was difficult. We often forget that it’s hard to be young. It’s not, “Gee, I wish I was young again.” It’s hard to be young. Because you have to design your life that’s hanging over you. And more than when I find that when I’m old, when I’m younger, more people needed to know sooner and immediately, “What am I doing? What are you doing? What are you doing?” Especially in New York. But I took four years, those four years interim to think about, do I want to go remain in fashion?

Because I had a sort of name as well as the designer in terms of us running a fashion company. And I decided I do not want to be a fashion executive. Absolutely out of the question. I remember the moment when I think, “Why am I even thinking about this?” I mean, it was the hardest thing. I lost all my money at the beginning. I mean, it was impossible to make clothes. But in the period that I was making clothing, things changed when we shifted to Italy, to have the production in Italy. And I would make those trips to Italy two weeks out of every month, and go to the North Biella or the South in Florence.

And I had, buying offices, so I had an office, I’d go to a desk, and I sat there and I went to the factories and I just made the goddamn clothes. And that’s sort of what that was about. But then whilst I was in Italy, I did notice that there were all these things that I liked very much on a daily basis. I mean from a salt and pepper shaker to a container for olive oil or whatever it might be. And I noticed that, I felt, “I’ve never seen these before, why is that?” And it was that simple, I thought, “Those things maybe aren’t here, and maybe I could import them or have that.” Because I liked things.

So that’s how I began, and to investigate. I was certainly not digital. I was digital as of yesterday perhaps, but I was really technically very wrong. But I had two file cabinets, little file cabinet things. One was the list of manufacturers, Italian manufacturers, that I would see in magazines. So I’d subscribed to all the sort of house magazines. I would write down every time there was a manufacturer listed for something that looked nice. And then I had in the other box all my little cards for the designers that were attributed to it. And that’s literally, like I did four years doing that.

And then I decided that, and I also in that time, I got out of the way, the craving to design our own apartment. So we bought a loft and I spent a huge time and effort on that. And the process of that was very good for me because it caused me to think a lot of things and deal with practical things. So that was simultaneous to me sitting there developing this business. And then I decided to open a store to sell these things. But to finance that, I didn’t want to use anything that was from savings or that I had available to me.

So I had one object that I had bought, actually for $10,000, years before, that I decided I needed to sell for $225,000, to open the store and live for six months. And I say all that because it was literally that I said, and nothing was going for that amount of money, but I had a great thing. But so I had offers from people, and I said, “You don’t understand, if you’re offering me $212,000, I can’t do it, because this is how much I need to open, and if I don’t get the money I’m not going to open the store.”

What was it?

It was an extraordinary Jean Dunand metal vase, hammered vase, an Amphora. There were only two of this size, one Yves Saint Laurent, and I had the other one. And it is very beautiful. It still is wherever it might be, a very, very beautiful object. But when I look at pictures of that, I see the store because I had the discipline to say, “Unless you do that, you’re not going to do it.”

The funny thing was when I opened the store in ‘94, I had one employee, I put out the minimal amount of, I think I had $6,000 in inventory, put it out, and it was gone after the first day. Gone. And I remember going home specifically and running the dishwasher because I had to bring my drinking glasses from home because I didn’t have anything to sell. It was very bad planning, but that was fortunate. I mean, it was an upside to that.

And so let’s say a year in, as someone walked in off the street, what was that experience like, what did they see there?

Well, they saw, we lived next door to Katie Ford and Andre Balazs, who lived in the building with the Ford modeling agency. And I mentioned them because Katie used to say to her daughter, Isabelle, who now we’re close friends with, she used to say to Isabelle, “Don’t go in that store because they’re crazy.” So if you say what the impression was we left, it was an insanity. Because I really, I felt that I needed to create something impossible that no one would ever, ever want to do, in order to not to have that competition.

And to be honest with you, I don’t think there’s another gallery or story that has opened since that is like that because it’s stupid. It’s too much work. But I am the sort of person that if in school in the old days they’d want to punish you and they’d say, write a hundred times on the blackboard. I love writing a hundred times the same thing. That’s right where I live. So I would go in there in the morning and I’d set it up. I’d clean everything in the store, paint the store, daily parts of it, whatever it needed.

I would sweep the entire block of Green Street. I swept the whole thing, and I would wash the windows in the front, and then I’d open the store. And because I felt that what was important was I didn’t have, it wasn’t a gilded maison, it was a place, and it looked really nice, but it was what it was. I felt that what I could own was the fact that it was noticeably immaculate, that I could own that, and it wouldn’t cost me very much money, it would just cost me having to do it.

So I thought, if I make these impossible choices, and I remember one of my so-called competitors at the time, who was great actually, came by and he said to me, when I was washing the windows, “How long do you think you could keep this up?” I didn’t respond because I knew my answer was, “Forever.” But I think people kept saying, “Do you know where we can buy these things?” That was the one maybe where I was kind of off in my thinking, because I felt, “What am I doing with this stuff? What is my role?

Am I a troll under the bridge that you just have to give me $40 or else you can cross over and have this object?” That didn’t seem very adult to me. And I was 45, so I wanted to do something which was arch. I wanted to do something where it was a sort of, I wanted to raise the bar for the conversation, which was audacious perhaps, but there you go. That’s me. And so I would make difficult juxtapositions, like curious. Because I dropped all the categories, I felt what nobody needs is for me to say, “Oh, you’ll find that in the chair department.” Or, “You’ll find that in the lamp department.”

Because the bad thing about those kinds of categories is that what you’re really saying is, “All that we have you could glance and see if you like anything, and that’s it.” Whereas in my store, nothing was grouped properly, so you had to look at the whole damn place to see. And so that was just that. And also it looked, I had to, I didn’t really care when I started what it was, the style of the architecture, but I did decide to go with Harry Allen with a museum look. And that sounds very tacky, and it is, and thinking, it sounds pretty tacky that we would pick a look.

But first of all, I couldn’t rent the place as a store because I was told nobody will rent you if you’re retail. So I had to look, I said, “I’m not a retailer, I’m a gallery.” So I had to look like a gallery. And then also I wanted things to be, I wanted to make it difficult, because I had a sense of New York by then, certainly having been in the fashion business. And I felt I needed to make it kind of like, “How dare that guy do that?” So I had a long list on the doors of things you couldn’t do if you wanted to come in.

I remember that list. Can you tell me, I totally forgot about it, but now I remember it. Tell me about that list, what were some things on the list?

Well, obviously you can’t eat, you can’t drink. There’s no photography, there’s no dogs, no pets of any kind whatsoever. Small children needed to be held. Things sort of like that. Okay. And no photography. “No, no, no, no.” Okay. And those were the days when you, I mean, you carried a bag and a coffee. You never went anywhere without a coffee in the street in SoHo. So we would tell people, “We’ll take your coffee and keep it behind the counter.”

But then of course, we always got the wrong coffees. One woman came into me and said, “You killed my dog,” because I wouldn’t let the dogs in, Franklin and I wouldn’t let the dogs in, so she tied it outside and something happened. It didn’t die, but something happened. But the rules, the reason that I did this was I thought if you put something locked behind a glass case, it’s probably people will think because that’s where the expensive stuff is. But that wasn’t, I was indiscriminate. I would put something very expensive next to a bottle opener.

So also it suggested that the arrangement was necessary to be preserved. You couldn’t mess it around, pick up and put it down someplace else, because it suggested that there was something, if you look again, that would be interesting there. Some comment I’d be making. And of course I had to have an interesting comment. But I thought that would… And also the denial, like there was a, you advanced a notch, when we unlocked the case, you were somebody. And other people would say, “Gee, they get to have the case unlocked.” It was really just, it was totally Machiavellian manipulation. Thank you, Columbia University. But that’s basically, that was the approach.

It worked.

It worked. I was sincere about it, and I took certain decisions like what to call the store. And I decided to call it me, Moss, because then I would never be off brand. Because knowing myself, I knew that if I suddenly went to Germany and found cuckoo clocks, I would want to buy the whole place of cuckoo clocks, I’d want the whole store to be cuckoo clocks. And I thought that was a good idea if I could get behind it myself. But if I have to say “No, that’s fine for me, but what’s that do to the brand?” Then I felt in a month, I would be so bored out of my mind and it would fail because I’m not a retailer, I’m not smart, I don’t know how to do that. But I can be me. So that was how I came upon that thing.


And you kind of pioneered a sense of this sort of high-low thinking in design, where you were bringing in things that were extremely fragile and beautiful and very almost traditional porcelain figurines with gold detail, but also Tupperware. And what was your thinking behind that? Was that just coming… Did anybody tell you, “No, no, no, no, no, you can’t mix Limoges with Tupperware.”

Oh, sure. Yeah. Definitely.

Or Nymphenburg or whatever.

When you look at things all day, every day, and your heart’s beating a thousand miles a minute, and you have an outlet, a place that you want to… I wanted to use it. I was voracious in my appetite for, “What else you got? What else you got? What else? What else? What if? What if? What if? What if?” And it was a manageable, small little space, but I could do whatever I wanted, and I loved doing it. So I mean, we had very quickly, we were up to 250 approximately vendors. That’s insane.

That’s huge.

Yeah. But I just couldn’t believe that I was able to do more and more and more and more. And I saw the connections between things. And if there was no connection between it, I thought about what connection I could invent. But I felt that when it occurred to me that modernism was a like chain around my arms and legs, modernism, modernist was like a religion. And I didn’t like that, because I thought, “I was in New York, I was living in a loft, like you’re supposed to live. I was wearing black, like you’re supposed to wear. I was doing this stuff.”

And then I thought, “Wait a minute, there’s no pattern in my life. I can do what I want, and I can maybe even influence other people to do the same thing.” Which was my ego. “Can I talk somebody into doing this? And all I’d have to do is just put it in the glass case and look at them, like what problems do you have with that?” Because when I was in, a friend of mine, who’s German, Cecile Hohenlohe, was working for Nymphenburg, as an advisor to bring them forward with new designers, like Ted Muehling.

She and I were close, and she called me and she said, “Why don’t you come out to Nymphenburg?” I said, “Well, I can’t carry figurines.” And she said, “No, no, no, no, we’re doing a new collection.” So I get to Nymphenburg outside of Munich, and I can’t keep my eyes off these figurines, because I’d only seen the sort of junky ones on 34th Street. And I never saw things, and I thought, “My God, they’re so beautiful. Why can’t I have that?”

So I really got into it. And Nymphenburg wasn’t selling to stores at that time, the manufacture’s on the grounds of the palace. And Duke Franz was living there, and it was real, they didn’t sell… You had to show up in your coach and order something. So I engaged with them over many years, and we developed a sort of collection, and then they grew tremendously.

But there was a guy there, the director at the time who, I called him Eggy, but his name was Baron Egbert von Maltzahn, and he was directing Nymphenburg. But Eggy was a wonderful, he is a wonderful man. And I said, “I want to do something in New York.” He said, “Do whatever you want.” So if somebody says that to me, look out. Because I said to him, “It needs to be real, people need to believe and understand that it’s true that you have closed Nymphenburg for a month, and it’s moved to Moss in New York, so I want the lion, the state lion in front of the palace moved to New York.” Which they did. He did it.

Oh, my gosh.

And I was like, this is why I was flying, I was so excited, because somehow nobody asked. And Nymphenburg, they sent me things from the palace that I was not to identify it to people because of liability. But I really showed Nymphenburg. And then the Times wrote it was the death of modernism. It doesn’t make you the most popular guy when you walk into the bar. But it was something, it was actually kind of something.

And of course you need to mention Franklin, your partner in crime and life. Where did the two of you meet?

Franklin and I met at a Christmas party when we were around 23, 24. We were at a Christmas party at a mutual friend’s house. And it turns out when we met at that party, we had both been recently hired to be part of the Shakespearean troupe that was leaving in a week to go to Stratford-upon-Avon to work with the Royal Shakespeare company. And so we’ve been together just over 50 years now.

Oh, wow. And I heard he has an Emmy, which I had no idea, until today.

Yeah. Franklin and I, when I had the fashion thing, we both were sort of weighted equally, it turned out. Okay. He had a tremendous reputation and job in the film, and he was producer of Sesame Street, among many other things. And then when I opened the store, the year that I opened the store, he was hired to go to London to run some channels that they thought would be just three months, three years he was there. So I would go back and forth, because fortunately his company took care of that. But it was difficult.

And then that’s why we, to answer your question sort of, we got together work-wise, was because I couldn’t be traveling like that, and he couldn’t be traveling like that. And it was sort of glamorous for the first month, because my God, we had an apartment in London, a apartment here. I would fly over, he’d fly over. But then like, ugh, that was really difficult. So he said, well, he’s got this big job, he doesn’t own that company on Sesame Street, and I owned this pathetically small little thing, but it’s buzzing. So he said, “Why don’t we get together and just do that?” To tell you the truth, that’s the thing.

And aside from the smaller things in the shop, obviously as time went on, you got involved with more commissions and things that really were kind of gallery momentous things, one of a kind art pieces, not production objects. What would you say during that time was the sort of apex of all of that? To give a good example of perhaps a piece that you had that you sold that was commissioned by you possibly? If you can describe that, pick one or two.

Well, the funny thing was the sort of commission thing started off on a bad note. It was a Christmas ornament in the shape of a sperm that was about 12 inches long, and it was a luminescent gold glass. And I found this brilliant guy, really brilliant, who was blowing glass outside of Manhattan, but in New York. And I thought I commissioned him, it was my first one, to do a hundred sperm Christmas tree ornaments in gold. And then I had this window, and I put a real huge Christmas tree in it, and I put all hundred dripping sperm ornaments on the tree. And then I remember when the landlord came by, they said, “Thumbs up, gorgeous.” It was gorgeous. But then I did something that they didn’t appreciate was then I added the sign, which said, Santa’s Coming.

Oh, gosh.

Yeah, that was my introduction to be careful with what you commission, because I had to take it down immediately. They were seriously furious.

Oh, gosh.

And we’ve never sold one of those ever.


I still have, if anybody out there wants a hundred sperm ornaments, vintage, as they say in eBay.

That’s amazing. Well, you know what? I think I have an idea. We’ll talk about that later. And because you got people to do amazing things, right? You’ve got people to create crazy things, sperm ornaments or whatever. What do you think, aside from just having really good taste and being very fastidious, was your secret sauce to convince people to do these things with you rather than with anybody else?

Well, first of all, because I truly loved what I was doing. I loved what people were doing. People would go to these fairs with me. There were certain large markets that when I got big enough, I was able to afford to attend Frankfurt, London, Paris, Cologne, Milan. So there’s a lot of travel. There was no need for me to supply a small store with… I was over informed, to tell you the truth. So that’s why we kept expanding because we had, “Well, what are we going to do with that information? What am I doing with it?”

What really changed was, I’m not materialistic. I don’t really need things. What was for me extraordinary, and I kept saying to Franklin, “I can’t believe this is happening,” was access. I was given unprecedented access to all these people, these manufacturers. Nobody was, no store owner was going to the factories. I had no particular reason to go. But then that was how I was able to, Vanini gave me the factory for two weeks, “Do what you want.” I mean would say to Franklin, “You won’t believe it, people are talking to me.” It was really…

And after many years, I never looked at objects anymore, I only met the people. Because it was much better to have, like with Gaetano Pesce. Gaetano would say, “How much do you have to spend this month on me?” I would say, I’d give him a figure. He’d say, “Okay, I’ll do something.” I never said, “What?” Or, “How many?” Or, “The price range?” Because I thought, “What do I know? He’s great. Let him go do something that’s great and give him the freedom to do it.

He’ll be a better retailer than I am. I’m not a good retailer. I have my own thing, but it’s certainly not like retail 101.” So Gaetano would call me when he was ready and he’d say, “I’ll bring over if you’re there, what I made for you.” And he would bring it over in a garbage bag, always just in a garbage bag. We would drop it off at the store, get a coffee to-go across the street and go sit in a little park there and talk. And that is exceptional. That turns out, I didn’t know that’s what I wanted, but that is what I wanted.

And there was also this period where you were also doing things outside of the walls of the store, right? You were doing installations and flirting with that sort of curatorial work and lots of stuff with the Campana Brothers and things like that. And was there ever a point where you decided, or thought or toyed with the idea of just going full gallery, not a storefront, or maybe a storefront just somewhere else, maybe in Chelsea or something in the gallery district and just kind of stopping with the cases and the ornaments and the little figurines?

Well, yeah, thank you, that’s a good question. That was actually kind of a big thing. There was a moment, Dan, when I heard somebody say to, I guess their client, “I’ll take that one because that looks the most like art.” And I’d always thought, “I’m in SoHo, I’m wedged between Pace and Metro Pictures, two of the great big galleries, people show up for each of them monthly for a new opening. Why don’t I, just not do anything heavy-handed, but just put a salt and pepper shaker in the window? Will people come to see their expectations fulfilled?”

And I wasn’t lying, I’m not saying one thing or another thing. I just put a salt and pepper shaker. I use that as a placeholder for many different kinds of things, functional objects. And people started to see them for the qualities that were outside of the function. I didn’t rob the function. I didn’t pretend and not show it, I just didn’t emphasize the function. I emphasized something else, it’s shiny, it’s blue, it looks heavy. And you put it next to this, it looks… And it started to look like art.

And then when that audience one day shifted over, because my salt and pepper shakers were an awfully lot less expensive than the art salt and pepper shaker, it was phenomenal. It was like a dream come true. And I didn’t care whether you call it art or whether you call it whatever. I liked that the work that was being done by people like the Alessi company, and many cartel was doing exceptional things. Floss was doing exceptional things. And to see that suddenly they were looking at a lamp, and could see that there was something greater in it, that there was thought, there was intelligence, there was humor, there was humanity. There was something there. That was great. That was really good.

Dan Rubinstein:

And what do you think of the sort of, I mean since then, now there are so many design galleries in New York and everywhere. It’s sort of a format now that is accepted as a sort of cousin of the art world, and if not a spouse of the art world now. What is your take on the state of the design gallery today, because they’re not quite doing what you’re doing. Some did a little bit in the beginning or it kind of morphed, but now it’s very hard to distinguish some design galleries from a traditional art gallery. What’s your take on the gallery scene, the design gallery scene today?

The design gallery needs to be supported by the designers, and the designers need to see themselves as artists, because if they see themselves as just working out a really good practical chair, it can’t be that, because the place that it’s being offered is in the guise of a art gallery. There’s a conundrum there, a bit of a thing. I don’t have an opinion on it because I don’t follow it now. I just don’t follow it.

But I follow, I mean, I have friends that I’ve been fortunate enough to maintain who are the designer artists, and they have shifted to, let’s say, include a bigger piece of the pie, is now a concept than it is crafted well, or you get a discount if you order 12, or the material usage is interesting, and it’s naive.

It shifted away from the function. I never meant to ignore function ever, I just didn’t assign myself the task of celebrating it, because I don’t care. For me, I don’t care if a chair is comfortable. I don’t care, because I’m looking for something else in the chair. If it’s there, I don’t need… I mean, the function has never been interesting to me.

That’s a very privileged attitude, of course, because if you’re going to go and you can only buy one thing to sit on, you better well make sure it’s comfortable. But I was privileged. My chairs didn’t have to be seated, you didn’t have to need to sit in them comfortably. So I say that because it wasn’t the best thing that evolved this design into art.

And in fact, I remember it used to be patrolled so that there would be no crossover, which was hilarious and stupid to me at the same time. Because when a fair would open up, like Design Miami, the vetters would come in and make sure no art had creeped into the design section. And this was for all the fairs, Frieze and everything, it was like, “Yes, now we’re including design, but don’t worry, we’ll make it very clear, which is design and which is art.”

I don’t know what that was about, like, why? Can’t we live with a little bit of confusion or optimism or open, [inaudible 00:50:39] confuse your clarity, that there is no defined category. But that never happened, I think, successfully. And when we opened in Los Angeles, that was where we had a problem, because we were 15 years too early, really. It was like we opened as a gallery, art. And we spent a lot of money on this, it was the most beautiful space I ever could have imagined I’d have.

Where was it, in LA?

It was in LA, yeah, on Melrose, right across from Melrose Place. And it was two shops that we knocked through and made into one, and gutted, gutted, and put in all this stuff. And I would say no one ever came. And also LA, for me, I was Woody Allen. I mean, they were onto me. There was not a soul around, and I would walk on the red light and then the police cars would arrive. But aside from just the ill fit of me and Los Angeles, they didn’t understand why things couldn’t be customized.

It was the same person who would go in and say, “Can you make Starry Night a little less starry?” It was just like what it was. Not to be overblown about comparing Starry Night to a Campana chair, but yeah, comparing Starry night to a Campana chair, yes, indeed. They were audacious and kind of rude with the attitude toward, “Well, you don’t expect me to take it like that, that doesn’t go with what I have.” So that’s where art and design never quite got together.

And are you still consulting with brands and keeping your Moss Bureau active?

Oh, yes. We’ve been very busy. But I am, to tell you the truth, I’m sort of not enjoying it as much. I really don’t like collaborating. Like who would? Give me one thing to put in the column of, yes, like who would want to? I don’t really give a-


Well, yeah, that’s why we’re doing it. That’s exactly dead on. Yeah. I should have called you a long time ago. But no, there are all these committees we’ve worked for. What we decided Moss Bureau would do would be anything that somebody inquired did we do. So we thought, “We’re not going to say what we do, the people will ask, “Do you do this?” And we’ll go, “Yes.”

So we were working with Starbucks. We were working with a slew of museums, up until COVID and then COVID, of course, we were working at the time simultaneously like six museum accounts. But then the museums were wondering, “Will anybody ever come to visit the museum, let alone the shop?” So then that tapered off. And now I just don’t really… I feel a little bit grumpy, and I don’t really want to have to talk to or work with people that I’m not comfortable with. I just don’t want to do it.

Amen to that. If that’s possible, don’t do it.

If you have a big vase.

And what’s next for you, if that’s kind of maybe what is sort of appealing to you nowadays?

Well, I have to say, we moved to Connecticut, because I have Parkinson’s, and we had understood that the Yale med department was a specialist in that, and particularly good. So we moved here. And what occupies a lot of my time now is my illness. I say that only because I think it’s one thing I can do about it is just tell people, try to not normalize it, but not have people freak out. Because when you get old, I mean, I’m going to be 75, stuff happens.

That reminds me, when we had a damage sale, we did a mass mailing, and the face of the card, the back of of the postcard gave the details. The front of it was a so-called “graphic.” And what the graphic was was just the words, shit happens. Okay. We had protests, people writing to us, “My daughter saw that mailer from you,” it was like, anyway. No, I think that so much time is taken with a medical thing. I mean, it’s unbelievable.

And it really can get to a point, I have issues now which I may address more politically with the medical and the insurance companies, because we got to a point where we’re at this institution, and what the offering that is covered by insurance is you get a 20-minute appointment every seven months. That doesn’t do it. You cannot do it. So of course, all my neighbors are in the same, where we live is all the professors, and they’re elderly people. And that’s where my, it’s impossible not to… I want to be in the moment, and in the moment I’m not looking at fruit bowls, I’m looking at doctors things. So that’s where I live at the moment.

And has the science behind it improved at all since you were first diagnosed?

Well, Parkinson’s was diagnosed 200 years ago. 200 years ago! And as far as I can see, nothing has developed from that.


Really. And so—

So there’s no medication that you can take or that you are taking that kind of helps?

Yes. Well, it’s all a dopamine deficiency. So there’s fake dopamines, tricks that you play on the mind. But it’s a brain disease that manifests itself in all the other physical aspects because it’s like a fuse, if you turn it off, nothing works, because we’re all about motor movements. So it’s problem. It’s quite seriously a problem. I concluded on my own, I just decided that since this is a brain disease, and since I studied acting, I remember the Stella Adler first chapter in her acting technique was walk across the room.

This was the first exercise, walk across the room as if your foot is asleep. So I thought, “Well, why don’t I try to go back to acting and walk across the room as if my foot isn’t asleep?” And it works a lot of the time, so you never go back to the beginning, you always drag everything with you, thank God. So that’s what I’m playing around with most of these days. But we’re working, we’re doing jobs. The only time I feel great, and I am basically without symptoms is when I’m working, so-called working. I don’t know why it’s called working because I enjoy it so much, but that’s where I’m at.

And what’s on your… I was wondering what is on your shopping list? You said that you’re not a materialistic person, but I was curious if there’s something, a particular thing you’re hunting for or looking to purchase next? No matter how small.

Who you’ve been speaking to?

Just the crazy person in my head. Don’t worry.

Okay. Glad to meet you. Yeah, I enjoy the obsession with something, with digging for it. And at the moment I’m obsessed with Helmut Schaffenacker, who is, his work in 1960 to 1970, outside of Ulm in West Germany, as his ceramic work is incredible. Now, some of it are subjects which I hate, like horses and little animals and shit like that, more tourist stuff. The quality of it is unreal, what he does. It’s so extraordinary in the clay.

And then he did large wall panels, which is what I’ve been buying, which are amazing. I’ve never seen anything like it. Never sold outside of his local area. Nobody ever heard of the guy. And I’m buying it for maybe $75, these extraordinary things. So I mention all that because I love to enter into something and explore it and engage with it. And if it’s affordable, I can collect it, and then I could give it away, or throw it away or covet it. But it’s like I-

[inaudible 01:00:50] not sell?

No, I don’t like to… I don’t really, I hate selling. I don’t like it on principle. I’ve never liked selling.

How big is your collection today, if I said, how many objects do you have in storage and in your house?

We have probably 150, 200 pieces or something. Well, we’re actually working now, it’s called end of life issues. And thank you very much whoever did that. And we’re beginning to sell off some of the things that we love to live with, but as you get older and you look toward things, I don’t want to… It’s responsible to own things, especially things you love by people you love, so it’s important, which we’re behind in in making arrangements for those things. So we’re working very hard, in fact, we’re negotiating at this moment with which by the time this runs, we’ll be done. But we’re negotiating with a large auction house to do something special and things like that.

Amazing. Well, please let me know when that

Oh, yeah.

Is there anything that you have at home, I’m curious, that you really love that is completely worthless?

Yeah. No, I have something my father gave me. My father was not… We didn’t particularly get along, although I loved him very much, but we didn’t really get along. He was an engineer, and he had an X-ray company. And that he ran very brilliantly, and he patented all these important things. And I had no interest in it whatsoever.

And he had a small X-ray tube, which I think it’s an X-ray tube, which he wanted to give to me, but he knew that I’d put it on a shelf and be done. So he mounted it on a pedestal, which was a pickle jar lid, and he wrote on it, M. Moss, Merton Moss. And he gave it to me knowing that if it was art, that I would be more receptive to it. And it was just, I don’t know why, it touches me. That was a very sweet thing to do.


Thank you to my guest, Murray Moss, as well as to Franklin Getchell for making this episode happen. The editor of The Grand Tourist is Stan Hall. To keep this going, don’t forget to visit our website and sign up for our newsletter, The Grand Tourist Curator at And follow me on Instagram @danrubinstein. And don’t forget to follow The Grand Tourist on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you like to listen. And leave us a rating or comment, every little bit helps. Till next time.


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