Sunday, April 16, 2017

"Inventing Downtown"

View as you enter NYU's Grey Gallery: work from the Tanager Gallery on yellow wall and far white wall, with a Jim Dine from Reuben Gallery, center

The co-op gallery has a long and distinguished history, a point made eminently clear by the recent exhibition, Inventing Downtown: Artist-Run Galleries in New York City, 1952-1965, at New York University's Grey Gallery. The exhibition ended on April 1, but the Grey Gallery has a good website about the show that includes a PDF of the 18-page handout and a link to a 296-page hardcover catalog available for sale. The exhibition, curated by Melissa Rachleff, was six years in the making. Looking back, as this exhibition allows you to do, you see how important these cooperative efforts were, not only for the artists--many of whom went on to stellar international careers--but to the life of the New York City art community and the cultural energy of American art. Here I'll take you on a tour of some of what I saw.


Tanager Gallery

Yes, that's a Louise Nevelson on the wall above and in closer view below. Tanager, which ran from 1953 to 1962, was one of several galleries that formed downtown. Its location: East Fourth Street and then East Tenth. Member dues were $10 a month, though it received some donor support. You'll recognize some of the members' names from an exhibition flyer: Willem de Kooning, Philip Guston, Pat Passloff, Milton Resnick, Esteban Vicente.

Louise Nevelson

Al Jensen, Heaven and Earth, 1960; and George Ortman, shown in full view below

George Ortman, Stages of Life, 1957

Louise Bourgeois sculpture, Labyrinthine Tower,1962; Sally Hazlett Drummond, Wings of the Dove, c. 1961

Drummond detail below

Bourgeois in foreground; in distance: Perle Fine

Perle Fine, Heroic Awakening, 1957
Fine was the subject of a recent solo at Berry Campbell Gallery in Chelsea

More at Tanager: Alex Katz, Ada, 1959; Sidney Geist, Studded Figure, 1957 (in corner); foreground: Mary Frank, Reclining Figure, 1960

(Because of the  layout of the installation, it was not always clear which gallery the sculptors belonged to.)

We're in the Tanager space looking into the area dedicated to Hansa Gallery

Hansa Gallery

So all these years I just assumed that Hansa Gallery was named after the paint color. But no. Most of the 12 artists in this co-op had studied with Hans Hoffman, who inspired the name. The gallery's initial location was East 12th Street and then moved to Central Park South near 57th Street. Wolf Kahn, Allan Kaprow, George Segal  and Jane Wilson were some of its members. They paid $21 month in dues. Ivan Karp was a director. The gallery ran from 1952 to 1959.

At Hansa: Allan Kaprow, Blue, Blue, Blue, 1956

With Kaprow to our back, we see the installation view of the Hansa gallery with some individual works shown below

Wolf Kahn, Frank O'Hara, 1953-54

Jane Wilson, Portrait of Jane Freilicher, 1957

Top: George Segal; bottom: Fay Lansner

Another view of the Hansa installation
(Sculpture: George Sugarman, Four Forms in Walnut, 1959; from Brata Gallery)

Myron Stout, Untitled, 1950

Brata Gallery

From the handout: "Co-founded by the brothers John and Nicholas Krushenick, the Brata took its name from the word 'brother' in their father's native Russian-Ukranian dialect." In addition to the Krushenick brothers, Ronald Bladen, Ed Clark, Al Held, George Sugarman, and Yayoi Kusama were members. It ran from 1957 to 1962.

Brata installation view: Yayoi Kusama painting holds the foreground. To its left, three by Robert Whitman of Hansa Gallery (this was a confusing exhibition to document), and Al Held, shown below

Al Held, Untitled, 1960

More Brata but my information is missing, except for . . .

. . . Ronald Bladen, Japanese, 1956-59

City Gallery

Then as now, there was a lot of cross polination. Red Grooms, who was instrumental in founding Phoenix Gallery, created a space at the front of his own loft on Sixth Avenue at 24th Street with the artist Jay Milder. It would last only six months, but it was significant for an exhibition of Drawings that gathered the work of some 45 artists. 

Just down from the Brata Gallery installation is the space devoted to City Gallery. Here,  Sari Dienes, HPFS, c. 1953

Dienes's HPFS consists of rubbings of grates and metal plates from city streets, on Webril, a cotton padding material

This wall would seem to be a kind of recreation of the big drawing show that gave this short-lived gallery its fame

Mimi Gross, Street, 1958

Emily Mason, Untitled (Venice), 1958

Red Grooms, Untitled, 1958

Spiral Group

The only specifically African-American gallery, Spiral began with meetings in Romare Bearden's Canal Street loft before moving to Christopher Street in 1963. It would last until 1965. Notes the exhibition handout, "Before the Black Arts Movement in 1965, artworks referencing race were likely to be condemned as sociological, not aesthetic. Spiral's artists were passionate about confronting the tumultuous events of their time but struggled with the question of how to incorporate politics into modernism." (It's an issue that women artists and gay artists of all ethnicities would shortly have to address as well.) The Archimedean spiral provided the origin of the group's name. Members included Emma Amos, Bearden, Norman Lewis, and Hale Woodruff.

Installation wall of Spiral Group

Emma Amos, Without Feather Boa, 1965

James Yeargans, Sun Above City, 1962

Another view of Spiral Group

Left: Hale Woodruff, Blue Intrusion, 1958; bottom right: Romare Bearden, The Prevalence of Ritual: Conjur Woman, 1964

From Spiral Group we look across the exhibition space to The Center and the Delancey Street Museum 

The Center and Delancey Street Museum

These were individual entities, here shown in the same corner of the exhibition. What interests me about The Center is that the founders, Aldo and Elsa Tambellini, are not now famous names. (Though I learned that Aldo's archive is housed somewhere in Salem, Mass., where I have my studio, so I'm going to to a little research when I have some time.) The Center maintained an outdoor sculpture exhibition space on the grounds of St. Marks Chruch in the Bowery.

The Delancey Street Musuem was another short-lived Red Grooms effort. The "museum," located in a former boxing gym, was the public front part of Grooms's private studio.

On left wall: Works by Aldo Tambellini from The Center; on right wall, from the Delancey Street Museum

The Center: Aldo Tambellini, above and below

Delancey Street Museum: Marcia Marcus, Self-Portraint in Fur Jacket, 1959

Reuben Gallery

Allan Kaprow and Anita Rubin founded the gallery in 1959 after Hansa closed. Kaprow integrated performance into the gallery's program and would become known for his Happenings. Jim Dine, Martha Edelheit, Claes Oldenberg, Renee Rubin, and Lucas Samaras would all be involved with the gallery. It would last until 1961.

With Marcia Marcus's Self Portrait in Fur Jacket at our back, we look into the space dedicated to the Reuben Gallery

Each gallery got a wall text with historical information and a photograph of the venue or its participants from that time

Lucas Samaras, Untitled,  1958-59

Martha Edelheit, Frabdjous Day, 1959

In the Reuben Gallery space looking into the section for 79 Park Place Gallery and, in the far back corner, Spiral Group. At right, is a work by the Reuben Gallery's Jim Dine.
We're going to turn left and look briefly at the March Group

The March Group

Boris Lurie, a concentration camp survivor and one of the founders of what was known at the March Gallery on East Tenth Street, became dismayed at what he saw as the "increasing careerism" of the downtown scene. He redirected the gallery to polemical exhibitions. From the handout: "In 1960-1962 they produced three group exhibitions: the Vulgar Show, the Involvement Show, and the Doom Show. Each focused on issues pertaining to the Cold War, images from the Holocaust in the wake of the Adolf Eichmann trial in Jerusalem, the civil rights movement, and liberation struggles against colonial rule."

To orient you, the Reuben Gallery exhibition is on the other side of the center wall. Here we see work from the March Group, including . . .

. . .  Sam Goodman's poster for Doom Show, 1961

Another view or the March Group section of the show

79 Park Place

With the March group at our back, we look into the installation of the 79 Park Place gallery. From the exhibition handout I learned that Dean Fleming paid $35 a month for the 2500-square-foot space at the address which gave the gallery its name. The gallery attracted such artists as  Mark di Suvero, Mary Leahy, Tamara Melcher, Forrest Myers, and Leo Valledor.  "Collectively disenchanted with the New York gallery system, they did not keep regular hours and planned to split equally any profits from sales." When their building was torn down, the group moved to a space just north of SoHo. "The group's strong resistence to the art market fostered a community that generated new ideas about public art and the genesis of what we now know as nonprofit alternative spaces."

Mark di Suvero sculpture, Untitled, 1964, in the foreground. I'll take you around the space in the images that follow

Danny Lyon, 79 Park Place, from the series, The Destruction of Lower Manhattan, 1967

Dean Fleming, Untitled, 1965

Anthony Magar, Untitled, 1962

Forrest Myers, E=MC3, 1963

Peter Forakis, Untitled,  1962

Leo Valledor, Evidence, 1964

Edwin Ruda, Redball, 1965

Tamara Melcher installation

Above and below
Untitled collages, 1963

Inventing Downtown, both the actual exhibition and the publications that remain, provide an invaluable art historical reference to the efforts of artists who created a place for themselves in an environment that was largely inhospitable. The effort continues in a new generation of artist-run venues. Thanks to NYU's Grey Gallery for allowing me to photograph the exhibition.
. . . . . . . .

As for the next big curatorial effort, I would love to see a survey of the women's galleries of the Seventies and Eightes to the present. Frustrated by exclusion and empowered by Feminism, women artists of this era created spaces to exhibit, perform, meet, and challenge the status quo. A museum curator could start with this great painting:

Sylvia Sleigh, A.I.R. Group Portrait, 1977-78
You can see it at the Whitney (a recent acquisition)

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