The other night I went to a pannel discussion/opening at the Solomon Contemporary, for a new show, “112 Greene Street : A Nexus of Ideas”. The show was put up in response to a competing exhibition revolving around the same concept, at the David Zwirner gallery, just down the street.
These 2 shows are focused around a building, located at 112 green street, that, in the early 70s, functioned as an artist-curated performance and art gallery/space/building, that fueled an incredible degree of freedom and experimentation. The space is now famous for the long list of figures that involved themselves within these walls, including Gordon Matta-Clarke, Richard Serra, Richard Nonas, Tina Girouard, Dickie Landry, Dennis Oppenheim, Suzanne Harris, Laurie Anderson, and hundreds of others.
The event began with saxophonist/photographer Dickie Landry entering the packed room from the outside hallway, playing his solo saxophone in a dramatic fashion, almost as a prayer among friends. The room was filled with aging artists, 60 and above, most of whom were active participants in its hayday, and a smattering of younger folks excited to get a glimpse of its historical energy and excitement.
The discussion was led by Alana Heiss,, with 8 or so of the artists sitting on a sculpture-stairway, along with a video monitor of the hilarious co-founder Jeffrey Lew while on Skype from Florida (who was smoking a joint throughout the entire discussion).
The discussion was extremely lively, with no sense of the occasional nostalgia/remember-the-good-old-days that these events can sometimes turn into. It was filled more with entertaining stories, and quite a bit of simply trying to remember events, and putting the pieces together.
What was most striking about the memories of the NYC art world 40 years ago (!!!) was the local, small-town environment of it all. Allana drew a map on a piece of paper, with the lofts of where everyone involved in the space lived. It was a tiny neighborhood of artists that functioned under the age-old boundaries for a village — anywhere you could hear the church bell.
The city is no longer able to support young artists in that kind of organically communal way — we are spread out across the entire city, from washington heights to alphabet city to park slope to bushwick to greenpoint to astoria — and beyond. Within each of these neighborhoods, there IS a sense of communal creativity, and local energy…. but all artists must now traverse hour-long commutes regularly. The good side of this is that, despite the increasingly inhospitable financial burdens of the city, it has not squelched the city’s newest crop of young creative minds…. it has merely given them new obstacles to surmount.