Express/Local calls attention to the way art is made and shown. Other alternative or collaborative New York-based endeavors could be considered as precedent for the project. Exit Art’s exhibition, “Alternative Histories” last year, (now being prepared as a permanent archive) presented a history of New York City alternative art spaces and projects since the 1960’s up to the present. Two examples of artist-run projects, 112 Greene Street and 179 Canal, took place a generation apart, but make for a good comparison.
Last week, New Yorker Magazine ran Peter Schjeldahl’s article “Proto Soho, Gordon Matta-Clark and 112 Greene Street” about 112 Greene Street, the seminal, artist-run gallery founded in 1970 by Jeffrey Lew, Gordon Matta-Clark and Alan Saret. According to the article, it launched a “nationwide wave of do-it-yourself ‘alternative spaces,’” The gallery’s earliest years were its best, Schjeldahl observes. Stripped down, raw responses to the economic recession and anti-Vietnam War sentiment fueled the collaborative artwork and performances there. He recalled this time as an era where there was “an assumed dedication to authenticity, in life as in art, that shrugged off concerns of mere personal happiness, not to mention the trivia of conventional success.”
While not housed in an academic institution, as Express/Local is, 112 Greene Street’s founder, Matta-Clark had been recently “sprung” from Cornell University and La Sorbonne in Paris, bringing a philosophical, open-ended query to his working method. Matta-Clark (whose work from this time is now showing at David Zwirner in Chelsea) tapped into the city’s indigenous resources – growing a cherry tree in the gallery’s basement soil and showing photographs of graffiti. He went on to create a series of works called “Anarchitecture,” in which he surgically altered condemned, abandoned and dilapidated structures in and around New York City. New York City was both his medium and his inspiration.
112 Greene Street eventually became the alternative space, White Columns, now in the West Village. Late last year White Columns presented an exhibition about another more recent pioneering artist run space, 179 Canal, who’s address-as-name recalls its SoHo predecessor. Artist/Founder Margaret Lee similarly rejected aspects of the current artworld such as depersonalized professionalism in league with stale art ideas and institutions. Once again, the art produced during her 15-month project, which started in 2009, responded to these liabilities, along with the economic slowdown and our current global environmental, societal and political disruptions. In researching the project for an essay in the December 2010 issue of The Brooklyn Rail “179 Canal/Anyways,” I found that, like Matta-Clark, Lee actively questioned art contexts and artworld organizations and in doing so attracted other artists to her collective. At 179 Canal, I found that, “Lee made an art family and an art home for herself. A home is where we live in the deepest sense. It is where our thoughts settle, where we can accept change.”