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Murray Moss Back in the Public Eye

The design guru talks about his collection of photographs from newspapers over the decades, the subject of an exhibit at Edelman Arts in New York.

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Shortly before he closed his namesake shop in Manhattan’s SoHo three years ago, Murray Moss picked up an eBay habit.

He’d just gone on a new medication that kept him up at night and he would spend hours trawling the site looking for old photographs. At first, he was targeting photographs by his late sister, Jean Moss-Weintraub, but soon he was distracted by the sometimes striking images that appeared in the pages of local newspapers like the Baltimore Sun and the Miami Herald, from the Thirties on through the Seventies. An obsessive collection began. In the first six months, he bought maybe 300 pictures.

“What am I going to do at two in the morning when I’m wide awake?” he said. “I’m a person able to focus relentlessly. I can look at thousands and thousands of pictures with a glass of water and concentrate on them. It’s not something anyone else would do. It’s boring.”

Moss was speaking Monday from his Midtown apartment about his first major public project since he closed the store. The collection is the subject of an exhibit he curated at Edelman Arts in New York that opens today.

For the design guru, now 65, the collection of these archival photographs is a return to the curation by way of merchandising that first brought him to prominence.

“I went through the photographs, and I experimented with different compositions, and this is of course what I used to do at Moss. And I had a platform again. It was a collection of things that could speak to each other if I put them together,” he said.

“Tertium Quid,” as Moss has titled the exhibit, follows a book of the same name that came out in May and features 25 pairs of images juxtaposed for effect, for instance a cop holding a gun arranged beside a photographer with his camera.

“The pun is shooting. It’s simplistic, but the photographs are beautiful. I put them together and something else happens,” he said cryptically.

This fall will mark the third anniversary since Moss closed the shop he opened in 1994 and eventually became a Shangri-la for New York’s design geeks. Since then, he’s undertaken a number of consulting projects through his firm, Moss Bureau: two books for Rizzoli, commercial interior design work, including an overhaul of the gift shop at Philip Johnson’s The Glass House (more museum projects are upcoming), and teaching at the School of Visual Arts.

Moss was diagnosed with Parkinson’s four years ago, but, in fact, he sounds reenergized in conversation, ticking off all the projects he’s got in the works.

“I have piles of things that tell me what I’m doing. I have many different platforms, which at first freaked me out because I was used to one platform, but now I have to shift focus so I can work on all these things,” he said.

The reception he’s received for what started out as a late-night hobby has surprised him. After the initial book was published, there was a review in an art journal, and Moss thought, “I got a review? Me, a merchant?” He shrugged. “And for what I’ve always done.”

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