The Fine Arts Building
105 Hudson Street, New York City
Around 1975 the Fine Arts Building, a large, eleven-floor office building at 105 Hudson Street was the center of an energetic art scene that featured the experimental artists that I admired and identified with in the early 1970s. With its abundance of cheap live-in studios, offices and exhibition spaces, the building fostered the camaraderie and networking that helped nourish radical new directions in the 1980s.
The building also helped rejuvenate the deserted neighborhood just south of Soho -- the now fashionable Tribeca. For those who were there it was a stimulating time that ended abruptly when the building went co-op in the late 1970s. The young artists and fledgling galleries were priced out and had to seek new quarters. Most migrated to the East Village and the Lower East Side where a new phase in the art world began.
Leading the rise of the Fine Arts Building was Julian Pretto, a young art entrepreneur hired by the owners of 105 Hudson to manage and promote the property. On the top floor there was a large open space for art exhibitions and performances. One floor had a crash pad for assorted youth and European travelers; the basement became a rehearsal space for rock groups like the Erasers who also lived there; Pretto himself had two gallery spaces; David Ebony ran a gallery out of his live-in studio; Marcia Tucker rented a small office where she started the New Museum; and in 1978 Artists Space took over much of the 2nd floor where they mounted the now famous "Pictures" exhibition, and the No Wave rock concerts that led to the No New York record album produced by Brian Eno.
On Saturdays the building bustled with openings and parties, and its halls were filled with artists, writers, and musicians. Here I cultivated my own creative direction along with many fellow travelers with whom I would cross paths again over the coming years.
Three Exhibitions - Fall 1975
The Fine Arts Building grabbed the attention of the New York art world in the fall of 1975 with three vanguard group exhibitions organized by young curators committed to working with venturesome talents.
The first of the shows, Not Photography, was curated by Edit DeAk, a co-founder of the alternative magazine Artrite, and an assistant at Artists Space during its first years on Wooster Street. Susan Penzner, the curator of Self-Portraits, ran a gallery out of her uptown apartment, sold advertisement for Artforum, and was a hostess at the popular art hangout One Fifth Avenue. The third show, Lives, was the most ambitious, and the only one with a catalogue. It was the first independent curatorial venture of Jeffrey Deitch, a 23-year old assistant at the John Weber Gallery, who in later years became a major player in the art world.
My work was featured in Not Photography, and Lives. The openings were exciting occasions enlivened by provocative conceptual works dealing with messy personal and political issues that often centered on their creators. Many were blatantly sexual and manipulative. Self-Portraits included James Collins' photographs of him staring at attractive women whom he picked up with the promise that they would be included in a work of art. Most talked about at the Lives opening was Hannah Wilke's vengeful sound piece "Intercourse With…" featuring embarrassing, personal messages left on her telephone answering machine by her ex-lover Claes Oldenburg. By comparison, my "Paparazzi Self-Portraits" in Not Photography, and the portrait of art dealer Ivan Karp included in Lives, seem cautious and restrained.
The Lives catalogue, featured next, included a short analytic essay by Deitch, followed by single pages by each artist in the exhibition. Lives captures a period of transition when artists were producing works that could broadly be termed conceptual, but broke with its formalist and didactic roots in favor of personal experience and engagement with the world.
The Lives catalogue presents the 1970s art world that I knew and that shaped my own work. The ramifications of this moment were many and diverse. Much of the art featured on this website -- the works in the Punk Art catalogue and the ABC No Rio book – can be traced back to the Lives artists. This post-conceptual moment would eventually evolve into the variations of interactive art predominant over the next decades.