Artists(’) Space by Kim Conaty

Posted August 05, 2010 by admin

Artists(’) Space
by Kim Conaty

“We meant for artists to have major decision-making power right from the start.”

-Irving Sandler, interview with Joan Rosenbaum, 1998

“Artists Space director Helene Winer wishes it to be known that Artists Space, is, in fact, run by professionals, not artists.”

-“Clarification,” New York Times (28 October 1979)

Founded as a state-sponsored, nonprofit exhibition space in 1973 and still thriving today, Artists Space has always dedicated itself to serving artists, providing wall space, project and program space, a fund for materials, and even career-oriented classes. By attempting to place artists in formal positions of power (as curators, Board members, and major decision-makers) Artists Space was, from its inception, exceptional. Yet the degree to which this guiding principle has been put into practice has depended largely on the interpretations of successive directors. Statements such as those above, the first made by one of Artists Space’s founders and the second by its second director, illustrate these divergent opinions. But even as clear as the ideological contrast may appear, many subtle dimensions were present. Appropriately, the name of the space itself—Artists Space, but not “Artists’” or “Artist’s” Space—is somewhat ambiguous.

Was the role of the administrators simply to facilitate the realization of artists’ ideas in the form of exhibitions or programming, or was it to take these ideas into account but ultimately hold the reins? This question was raised during the founding of Artists Space, and it became a matter of contention during the gallery’s two notorious exhibition controversies of 1979 and 1989. Attempting to understand the complexity and nuances inherent in the directors’ shifting interpretations of the role of the artist, I will consider these three situations, and, as a matter of course, will tell much of the story of this alternative space.

The inspiration for Artists Space rests with its two founders, Irving Sandler and Trudie Grace, and, aptly, the many artists with whom they consulted. Grace, then Director of the Visual Arts Projects Program at the New York State Council for the Arts (NYSCA), and Sandler, a lifelong supporter of artists and later consultant for the Visual Arts Program, proposed the creation of a state-sponsored organization and gallery space that would exist first and foremost to serve artists.(1) Such an idea issuing from Sandler comes as no surprise. Hailed by artist Mark diSuvero as “a joyous accomplice and friend to artists for half a century,” Sandler amassed a great deal of experience and cachet working with artists from his days managing The Club of the abstract expressionists and later the Tanager Gallery, one of the Tenth Street cooperatives.(2) While not a career artist, Sandler could always be found surrounded by them, focused on their needs and playing the role of friend and advocate.

Through her role at the Council, Grace had also become particularly sensitive to the plight of artists. In the late 1960s and early 1970s hundreds of young artists were arriving in New York to start their careers, but they were met by a disproportionately small number of commercial and cooperative galleries that could support them.(3) As Grace recalled, this situation had not gone unnoticed by the Council.(4) Yet despite measures already being taken, there was not a clear answer. According to NYSCA’s policies, funds could only go to nonprofit organizations. Thus, the vast majority of visual artists, who were working independently or in unincorporated groups, were not eligible for these monies.(5) She explained further: “There were so many artist groups asking for money, and that included the cooperatives….We couldn’t get involved with cooperatives, and we couldn’t also get involved with very loosely organized artist spaces. It had to be a genuine artist space.”(6)

Attempting to address this “inadvertent inequity”(7) in the allocation of Council funds, Grace and Sandler did something that would become characteristic of the first phase of Artists Space’s institution life—they consulted artists. Organizing a series of open discussions with New York artists, Grace and Sandler collected valuable information in determining what they, as Council representatives, could do to help. Not surprisingly, the issue that continued to emerge was the lack of exhibition space. The two used this qualitative research as the springboard for their proposal. The Committee for the Visual Arts, the fruit of this proposal, was founded in 1972, aided by a hefty one-hundred thousand-dollar grant from NYSCA.(8) With these funds the resultant exhibition space, Artists Space, was opened in October of the following year.

Amidst the glut of artists’ and cooperatives’ proposals, the Committee on the Visual Arts proposal surely stood out for its well-defined and distinctive goals. In contrast to artist-run spaces such as 112 Greene, headed by Jeffrey Lew, or the Clocktower, the curated space run by the singular vision of Alanna Heiss, Artists Space would grant artists major decision-making power and still retain non-artist administrators as facilitators.(9) For example, half of its Board of Directors would be artists, the founding Board including such notable figures as Chuck Close and George Segal. Further, a group of established artists would be responsible for choosing younger, unaffiliated artists to show in their first exhibitions.(10) A combination of a brilliant idea and a lot of luck, this artists-choose-artists approach yielded a number of impressive picks in its first years: Vito Acconci choosing Laurie Anderson, Sol LeWitt choosing Jonathan Borofsky, and Jane Kaufman choosing Barbara Kruger are but a few examples.

Artists Space also would not represent artists or take commissions from sales, as in a commercial gallery. Nor would it charge dues or enforce any membership, as in a cooperative gallery. In its idealist conception, Artists Space would exist as a service to artists, acting as a conduit through which young artists could gain experience and exposure. NYSCA, without changing its limited funding policies towards visual artists, could put its funding behind one highly organized, democratically-run space, instead of trying to aid each of the smaller factions and individuals.

Artists Space’s efforts at creating a transparent organization and attending to artists’ expressed needs, while tied to the ideologies of its founders, should also be considered in light of issues raised by the Art Workers Coalition (AWC) in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The events and demonstrations of AWC, a short-lived group that used activism to fight for artists’ rights, had just sent waves through the art world making it clear that “artists really wanted to take back control.”(11) As Linda Shearer, third director of Artists Space and then-curator at the Guggenheim Museum, remembered, artists were now concerned with “who’s telling us what to do,” and “the idea of a curator was seen as a sort of elitist, uptown notion.”(12) Artists Space, deliberately or not, was responding to this general sensibility. In fact, Artists Space’s organizational framework shares several concepts with AWC’s revised list of demands for museums from June 1970. For example, AWC’s first point calls for the inclusion of artists on museums’ Boards of Directors (to constitute 1/3 of the total body), and point eight demands greater exposure of unaffiliated artists through exhibition choices. The make-up of Artists Space’s Board and the artists-choose-artists exhibition selection process were all significant gestures.(13)

Even the layout of the final gallery space was carefully conceived. Lucy Lippard, a strong voice on the Board of Directors from the beginning (and former member of AWC), wanted to facilitate artists’ community-building, even proposing on a number of occasions that couches be placed around the gallery to create a comfortable, welcoming environment.(14) Another one of Lippard’s charges, effective throughout Grace’s time, was that the administrative office area should remain open, with no walls separating it from the gallery space. While not particularly aesthetically pleasing or practical, the open office was to be a symbolic gesture of Artists Space’s transparent policies.(15) As Trudie Grace affirmed, Artists Space was attempting to create “an exhibition program that would be fairer than any other around.”(16)

After Grace, her husband and various volunteers (including artist Vito Acconci, who wanted to help with the plumbing!) spent an entire summer renovating and cleaning out the space, Artists Space opened its doors in the fall of 1973.(17) It was a beautiful, bright gallery in an ideal art world location, situated two floors above Paula Cooper’s SoHo gallery at 155 Wooster Street. That this “alternative” space essentially mimicked the commercial SoHo galleries at the time was no accident. As Sandler explained, “It really had to be beautiful…I think we simply assumed we wanted to show artists at their very best and we didn’t want to make a statement about the gallery.”(18) At Artists Space, at least in this early phase, the objective was to present artists in an environment that closely-resembled a commercial gallery, giving the artist and his or her work a professional veneer not always associated with the existing alternative spaces. This exposure, Sandler and Grace soon determined, was the greatest service they could provide for these artists, casting these unaffiliated artists in a favorable light for the dealers and gallerists who dropped by.(19) The involvement of Sandler in particular gave Artists Space credibility in the art world from the start. As Grace aptly noted, “Irving could get anybody!”(20)

It was important in the first two years that Grace and Sandler were committed to administering the program proposals to the letter. They took the role of administrators and service providers, not strongly opinionated bodies interested in challenging the art, the artists, or the exhibition format (this would become the territory, of course, of the next directors).(21) After the significant effort of founding the gallery, Grace and Sandler assumed a background, facilitating role, focusing on the immediate needs of the gallery and its artists. We can only assume that the Council had this in mind when they decided to fund the space. Artists Space could function as a sort of experimental fish bowl, where new curatorial concepts, programs, and funds could be tried out, always under the close supervision of an administering body.

When Trudie Grace resigned from Artists Space in 1975, she and the Board faced the dilemma of finding a successor. There was an in-house candidate, namely Edit deAk, Grace’s assistant and an active artist and co-editor of Art-Rite magazine. Grace and the board instead decided on the outside candidate Helene Winer, a young curator from LACMA. Explaining the decision, Grace admitted that Winer was certainly more of a curator than what the board had been hoping for in its new director, but the board also realized that it needed a strong, experienced administrator (perhaps deAk was too much an “artist”?(22)). It seems that Artists Space couldn’t turn into Artists’ Space (or, worse, Artist’s Space). Maintaining a sort of checks and balances system with both artists and art world professionals was paramount to keeping the space “democratic” and, perhaps more importantly, to maintaining an outward “democratic” appearance in the eyes of the Council and other prospective funding groups.(23)

Almost as soon as Helene Winer arrived, she began making changes to Artists Space’s structure that would eventually lead to the elimination of the artists-choose-artists exhibition selection process. In so doing, she would give the administrative body a stronger curatorial role. She came up against considerable resistance by the Board members, particularly Sandler and Lippard.(24) Claiming that the previous system was open to nepotism, Winer explained further in a letter of 1975: “It depended on who you knew. It’s just as hard to know and endear yourself to a well-known artist as a well-known curator.”(25) From the beginning, critics like Roberta Smith saw the flaws in the system, and mentioned these in first review of the space in 1974: “This particular selection process seems to be as fallible as any other even though it is more visible and direct.”(26) This statement was of course true, and, in retrospect, even Sandler applauded Winer’s decision. But this change marked the first instance in which the former policy, which had defined symbolically the administrators’ relationship to artists and the real originality of Artists Space, was questioned.(27) While in some cases Winer would continue to use outside curators, as in the highly-acclaimed “Pictures” exhibition of 1977 organized by art critic Douglas Crimp, these curators were usually hand-selected by her, not a jury of other artists as was previously the case.

The first major controversy at Artists Space occurred during Winer’s tenure. It emerged in the wake of these debates, although it has not been discussed within this context. When artist Donald Newman (simply “Donald” at the time) was offered an exhibition opportunity in 1979, he decided to show his large-scale, abstract charcoal drawings, which he titled the “Nigger Drawings.” Winer, who had chosen Donald, asked him about the title, which he explained was tied to the charcoal material that often turned him black when he was busy at work. Not a great answer by any stretch of the imagination, but Winer, believing that this was freedom of artistic expression, decided to proceed. This is a crucial point: while Winer’s policy changes had been criticized as attempts to take back curatorial power from the artists, here the decision-making power was clearly turned over to the artist.

The onslaught of criticism that ensued from artists, activists, museum professionals and academics was mixed with an outpouring of support from the same range of individuals, who took up the issue of censorship as a worse evil. Winer was first criticized by the black arts community as approving a racist gesture.(28) Figures such as the Museum of Modern Art’s Howardena Pindell, artist David Hammons and other veteran activists like former Board member Lippard, led the charge. While these individuals believed strongly in artists’ rights (remember Lippard’s involvement with AWC), “Nigger Drawings” crossed the line because it committed an offense against the black community.(29)

This only begins to illustrate the complexity of the relationship between artist and administrator. First criticized for taking back power at Artists Space previously invested in artists, Winer was now vilified for allowing an artist to maintain complete control over the presentation of his work. Would the criticism have been the same had Donald been chosen by a fellow artist? Maybe. Or, would it have had the same charge had Artists Space been a private gallery, not a NYSCA-sponsored organization? Maybe, but maybe not. Directly tied to shifting interpretations of artists’ rights, the “Nigger Drawings” controversy quickly became multifaceted and emblematic of many more concerns: how should government arts funding be evaluated? Is censorship appropriate in a case of perceived racism? Is the gallery director accountable for a commissioned work by an artist? Sensitive to these questions, particularly the implications of censorship, was another strong faction who showed adamant support of Winer and Artists Space. Many regretted, in New Museum Director Marcia Tucker’s words, “the possible personal indignities suffered as a result of the title;”(30) nevertheless, censorship to artistic freedom was a greater concern. This sentiment was echoed by NYSCA Director Kitty Carlisle Hart, who reprimanded Artists Space but ultimately issued a statement in support of Winer and the Board.

When we return to the New York Times “Clarification” about Winer, which began this essay, we can examine it in a new light. Published during the aftermath of the “Nigger Drawings” controversy, the blurb is both a telling account of Winer’s contentious decisions during her tenure and a specific response to some of the “Nigger Drawings” criticism, which targeted Artists Space as irresponsible and lacking good judgment in the use of government funds. That Winer chose to position “professionals” against “artists” seems illustrative of the former, and that she directly addressed the issue at this time is indicative of the latter.

Long-time staff member and later director Susan Wyatt remembers an important meeting during which the Board of Directors made the conscious decision to uphold the “original mission of Artist Space in spirit, if not necessarily in name.”(31) She thought that this decision was made during Winer’s time, which is likely the case, as the issue had become a critical. Furthermore, when Winer resigned in 1980, the Board decided to continue her legacy by choosing yet another curator, Linda Shearer from the Guggenheim Museum. If the Board truly wanted Artists Space to return to the form of its original charter, it probably would not have chosen Shearer. Perhaps the “Nigger Drawings” controversy ultimately confirmed the need for a strong administrative voice, one that could serve both the artists and maintain a sense of responsibility for the current events and future development of the gallery. During her tenure, from 1980 to 1985, Shearer in fact hired a curator, started more private fundraising initiatives, and made Artists Space more museum-like in nature. Although she essentially put into practice many of the ideas of Winer, who had been heavily criticized for them, Shearer is credited by many as having really saved Artists Space.

Shearer’s successor was Susan Wyatt, intern at Artists Space in its first year, and a consistent member of the staff until her resignation in 1991. While she was responsible for many important changes at Artists Space, namely adding more diversity both in the Board and choices of exhibiting artists, taking on a more international exhibition programming, and establishing a film and video program, she is most often remembered for the “Witnesses: Against Our Vanishing” exhibition controversy. With a ten thousand-dollar grant from the NEA for an AIDS exhibition, Wyatt chose photographer Nan Goldin to curate a show for the fall of 1989 intended as a tribute to friends who had died of AIDS. A politically-charged and controversial catalogue was to accompany the exhibition, with a notable essay by David Wojnarowicz criticizing Senator Jesse Helms and John Cardinal O’Connor, among others. In the immediate wake of Helms’s recently-passed “obscenity” bill (summer 1989), and the growing divide between the art world and the cultural conservatives, unfortunately this exhibition simply became a time bomb with Wyatt at the center of it.

Without detailing the ensuing controversy at length, I would like to extract some of its key points, with special attention to the roles of artists and administrators.(32) When Wyatt received the catalogue text from Wojnarowicz, she was concerned about how the NEA might react to the inflammatory statements. Having gone through the “Nigger Drawings” controversy, she was particularly sensitive to her responsibility, first and foremost to the artist(s) but not with complete indifference to the funding bodies. To avoid any potentially-volatile situations, she informed the NEA that some critical material would be part of the catalogue, and, hearing this, they wanted to see the text in advance of publication. Wyatt, with hesitation, sent the text, and they responded with the request for the removal of the specific names used. When Wyatt presented this situation to Wojnarowicz, he was furious and refused to change anything; Goldin too was furious. After much debate, Wyatt proceeded with the catalogue, the NEA rescinded the grant, and an enormous censorship debate ensued. Whereas the “Nigger Drawings” controversy forced a split in the art world, with one faction protesting the “racist gesture” and the other demonstrating against censorship, the “Witnesses” controversy was an issue, for the most part, around which the art world banded together against the conservative national politics. While in the end the grant was returned (for the exhibition only, not the catalogue), the controversy had lasting effects on both the art world at large and on Artists Space specifically.

If the art world was mostly working together in support of the exhibition and catalogue, why did Wyatt receive so much criticism from her peers along the way? This situation is telling, especially of the fundamentally unchanging beliefs at the heart of Artists Space. Wyatt, I believe, committed the cardinal sin of Artists Space when she submitted the text to review and subsequently attempted to alter the artist’s voice. Submitting the text to the NEA, not consulting with the artist-curator until after the fact, and asking the artist to edit his text according to outside concerns were the three main charges against her. Wyatt may have been lauded in the art world at the national level for having proceeded with the exhibition, but back at Artists Space (and amongst the artists in and around the exhibition), she was faulted for her actions. She had violated the sacrosanct realm of the artists (even though, as was clear from previous controversy, this had already been questioned), and she had allowed herself as the administrator to overshadow the artists, who were supposed to hold major decision-making power. This controversy was definitely a product of its political and cultural context, but it was equally a product of the never-ending debates about artists and administrators at Artists Space.

In the end, I believe this controversy caused the somewhat dramatic return to the original system of Artists Space. In the succeeding directorships of Carlos Gutierrez-Solana, Claudia Gould, and currently Barbara Hunt, there has been more attention paid to putting control back in the hands of artists and not overstepping the gallery’s bounds as a service organization. While at other points in time, Artists Space was beginning to become a cutting-edge art world location, now it has chosen to maintain its original identity and value, offering an exhibition space, programs, an active artists registry, and several classes, all of which are designed to serve those artists not being served by the commercial gallery system.

* * * * *

There are several likely reasons behind the Council’s initial support of the Committee for the Visual Arts proposal: one, that it served a need of which the Council had become increasingly aware; two, that Grace and especially Sandler were the right people to get the job done, and three, that the proposal was unique—especially in its casting of the role of artists in the organization. Critical to Artists Space’s long-lasting success is the initial thought and energy devoted to the project by Grace and Sandler. Equally critical is that these two leaders, even Sandler who has remained on the Board throughout Artists Space’s lifetime, were willing to take a step back and allow their baby to develop and change in the hands of others, as difficult as that may have been initially. When the next wave of directors decided to revise Artists Space’s policies in order to revitalize the institution, they opened up a series of questions: Could the organization continue to grow and thrive if it felt bound to the specificity of the founders’ original proposal? Could Artists Space continue to keep the focus on artists and their needs while still developing into an important New York art exhibition space? Finally, if Artists Space limited itself and did not become a significant art space, would it actually be doing artists a real service? It was decided, through many changes and adjustments along the way, that the greatest service to artists would be to ensure the validity and integrity of the space. Perhaps the dynamic push and pull between artists and administrators—often present in the open questioning and self-critique now part of Artists Space’s legacy—is exactly what has maintained its vitality for over three decades.

Artists Space’s twentieth-fifth anniversary book, 5000 Artists Return to Artists Space, is in fact a fitting account of the life of the institution. The book, with only brief introductions by then director Claudia Gould and previous curator Valerie Smith, has no one authoritative voice. Instead, it is composed of a series of interviews with each successive director, and complemented by short interviews or statements by each of the artists who exhibited there. Both sides—the administrators and the artists—have space and a voice. Furthermore, these interviews and statements are filled with self-critique and institutional criticism; while many have fond memories to recount, others also openly criticize Artists Space for its policies, its administration, or its exhibitions. Here, after three decades, we still find the original spirit of the founders—a democratic, but artist-centric organization.


(1) The Committee for the Visual Arts, the incorporated body from which Artists Space was born, called itself, for example, an “arts and service organization.”

(2) Irving Sandler, Memoirs: A Sweeper-Up After Artists (New York: Thames and Hudson, 2003), quotation from back cover.

(3) An explosion in the number of fine arts programs across the country coupled with New York’s status since mid-century as the art capital of the world exaggerated the situation. This phenomenon of the increasing number of artists but locked-up nature of the art galleries has been described in various texts, including those by Artists Space’s co-founder Irving Sandler. See Sandler, Memoirs, 326-328

(3) As Trudie Grace explained in my interview: “It was clear that there was a lot of demand from artists, which was why the Visual Arts Program was created in the first place.” (Trudie Grace, interview by Kim Conaty, 14 November 2004).

(4) NYSCA, of course, could have altered their policy to make up for this inequity, but that would mean opening themselves up to the more “loosely-run” organizations, something that the Council, according to Grace, was not interested in doing (Trudie Grace, interview by Kim Conaty).

(5) Trudie Grace, interview by Kim Conaty. As Grace alludes to here, artists had begun banding together, setting up new alternative spaces or cooperative galleries, often for the sake of creating much-needed exhibition space. Examples include the cooperatives SoHo 20 and A.I.R., both cooperatives for women artists, and alternative spaces such as 112 Greene and Alanna Heiss’s Art and Urban Resources and the Clocktower. These can be seen as, what Julie Ault has termed, “constructive responses to the explicit and implied limitations of this commerce-oriented world.” Julie Ault, “For the Record,” in Alternative Art New York, 1965-1985, ed. Julie Ault (New York and Minneapolis: The Drawing Center and the University of Minnesota Press, 2002), 3.

(6) Sandler, Memoirs, 326.

(7) While there were indeed sufficient funds at NYSCA in the early 1970s for the support of such a project, the grant was still an enormous amount of money to be given in support of an idea, one that had not already been put into practice. While Sandler remarked on the extreme generosity of the Council at the time (that, for example, enormous funds were being distributed to “earth people” for “be-ins” in Central Park), Grace remembers the large sum handed over to the Committee as quite a special occurrence (Irving Sandler, interview by Kim Conaty, 20 November 2004; Trudie Grace, interview by Kim Conaty).

(8) While Grace admitted to a concern by the Council that Artists Space might infringe on Alanna Heiss’s funding, she explained that she and Sandler avoided this by making their policies and aims distinct from Heiss’s (Trudie Grace, interview by Kim Conaty). They did not consider these other spaces competitors, although Susan Wyatt would explain to me later that, of course, these spaces were constantly facing one another in requests for grants (Susan Wyatt, interview by Kim Conaty, 2 December 2004)

(9) Even the way in which these artist-selectors were chosen was quite original. In the first season, Sandler made up the list, specifically choosing artists with different orientations and interests. For the next season, Sandler and Grace sent out a list of over 650 New York area artists to all of these artists, inviting them to vote for ten artists they believed would make the best selectors. Directly from this mailing, which had an excellent response (over 400 artists returned the ballots), the next selectors for the next two seasons were chosen. Sandler, Memoirs, 328. See also “Trudie Grace and Irving Sandler,” interview by Joan Rosenbaum, 5000 Artists Return to Artists Space: 25 Years, eds. Claudia Gould and Valerie Smith (New York: Artists Space, 1998), 22-23.

(10) Linda Shearer, interview by Kim Conaty, October 29, 2004.

(11) Ibid.

(12) Yet another demand from AWC was their sixth point, which called for an area registry of artists (like Artists Space’s Unaffiliated Artists File). Demands as printed in Lucy R. Lippard, “The Art Workers Coalition: Not a History,” in Get the Message: A Decade of Art for Social Change (New York: E. P. Dutton, Inc., 1984), 12.

(13) Conaty, interview with Susan Wyatt.

(14) In my interview with Trudie Grace, she explained the virtues of the open office, while Susan Wyatt, later director and Artists Space employee since its inception, explained the more practical side of this. Trudie Grace, interview by Conaty; Susan Wyatt, interview by Kim Conaty .

(15) Trudie Grace, interview by Kim Conaty.

(16) Ibid.

(17) Irving Sandler, interview by Kim Conaty. This too, whether consciously or unconsciously, was an effort on the part of Artists Space to distinguish itself from the “less professional” neighborhood spaces like 112 Greene, where Lew encouraged the exhibiting artists to use the rough interior as a medium for experimentation. Sandler alluded to precisely this contrast in my interview.

(18) Indeed, in the first review of Artists Space in Artforum in January 1974, Roberta Smith described it as, “a new alternative to the commercial gallery situation,” and proceeded to discuss Artists Space’s points of uniqueness in relation to other galleries, not other alternative spaces (Roberta Smith, “Review of Exhibitions: J. B. Cobb, Martha Edelheit, Ree Morton, McArthur Binion, Jonathan Borofsky, Mary Obering, Artists Space” Artforum 12 no. 5 [January 1974]: 74).

(19) Trudie Grace, interview by Kim Conaty.

(20) Sandler has noted that he specifically wanted to avoid the possibility of becoming a “cultural czar.” Sandler, Memoirs, 327.

(21) Surely electing a liberal, outspoken artist would also be a liability for the Board, considering at that time, Artists Space was still predominantly funded by NYSCA and had a reputation to uphold.

(22) While the choice against deAk was probably the right one for various other reasons, the logic in this decision is, of course, flawed. Why would an artist necessarily be more inclined to promoting his or her own aesthetic interests than a curator who, surely, also has personal aesthetic interests? The important aspect of this in the end is that some sort of checks and balances system remain in place.

(23) Susan Wyatt, interview by Kim Conaty.

(24) Helene Winer, portion of November 1975 letter, recipient unknown. Artists Space exhibition files, Artists Space, New York.

(25) Smith, “Review of Exhibitions,” 74.

(26) One strategy that Winer employed to mitigate Board members’ concerns about the loss of artist decision-making power was to increase the use of the Unaffiliated Artists File, an open slide registry of New York State artists. This strategy would be carried on by Linda Shearer, the succeeding director, who established the “Selections” exhibitions, group shows offering a selection of recent work from the Artists File. When asked about the significance of this program, Shearer replied, “it was to a certain extent a marketing strategy, but it was sincere at the same time” (Linda Shearer, interview with Kim Conaty).

(27) Lippard, Hammons, Pindell and the rest of the protesters brought even more weight to Winer’s “mistake,” claiming that it was typical of the racism that lurked beneath the surface in the art world overall. A letter from art history professor Carol Duncan offers one example of this accusation. Carol Duncan, unpublished letter to Helene Winer, 22 March 1979. “Nigger Drawings” exhibition file, Artists Space, New York.

(28) The publicity in the art press and The New York Times gives an account of both sides of the controversy. For a concise history of the controversy, including statements from both sides, see Lowery Sims, “Fighting Words,” in Mutiny and the Mainstream: Talk That Changed Art, 1975-1990, ed. Judy Seigel (New York: Midmarch Arts Press, 1992), 122-124.

(29) Marcia Tucker, unpublished letter to Kitty Carlisle Hart, 12 June 1979. “Nigger Drawings” exhibition file, Artists Space, New York.

(30) Susan Wyatt, interview with Kim Conaty.

(31) For a contemporary account of the controversy as it unfolded, see three consecutive articles by William H. Honan in the New York Times: William H. Honan, “New York Art Exhibition to Test Federal Restrictions,” New York Times (8 November 1989): C22; “Arts Endowment Withdraws Grant for AIDS Show,” New York Times (9 Novemer 1989): A1, C28; “The Endowment vs. the Arts: Anger and Concern,” New York Times (10 November 1989). See also one of the more reflective contemporary articles: Michael Kimmelman, “Nonprofit Gallery in TriBeCa Finds Itself at Storm’s Center,” New York Times (10 November 1989): C33. For the story of the debate, as I tell here, the information from these articles has been supplemented by a 1993 interview with Susan Wyatt (5000 Artists Return to Artists Space, 194-210) and my own interview with her (Susan Wyatt, interview by Kim Conaty).

Works Cited

5000 Artists Return to Artists Space: 25 Years. Eds. Claudia Gould and Valerie Smith. New York: Artists Space, 1998

Ault, Julie (ed.). Alternative Art New York, 1965-1985. New York and Minneapolis: The Drawing Center and University of Minnesota Press, 2002

Duncan, Carol. Unpublished letter to Helene Winer. 22 March 1979. “Nigger Drawings” exhibition file. Artists Space, New York

Grace, Trudie. Interview by Kim Conaty. Digital recording. 14 November 2004

Honan, William H. “New York Art Exhibition to Test Federal Restrictions.” New York Times (8 November 1989): C22

_________. “Arts Endowment Withdraws Grant for AIDS Show.” New York Times (9 Novemer 1989): A1, C28

_________. “The Endowment vs. the Arts: Anger and Concern.” New York Times (10 November 1989)

Kimmelman, Michael. “Nonprofit Gallery in TriBeCa Finds Itself at Storm’s Center.” New York Times (10 November 1989): C33

Peter, Jennifer A. and Louis M. Crosier, eds. The Cultural Battlefield: Art Censorship and Public Funding. Gilsum, N.H.: Avocus Publishing, 1995

Sandler, Irving. Interview by Kim Conaty. Digital recording. 20 November 2004

_________. Memoirs: A Sweeper-Up After Artists. New York: Thames and Hudson, 2003

Shearer, Linda. Interview by Kim Conaty. Digital recording. 29 October 2004

Sims, Lowery. “Fighting Words.” In Mutiny and the Mainstream: Talk That Changed Art, 1975-1990. Ed. Judy Seigel. New York: Midmarch Arts Press, 1992

Smith, Roberta. “Review of Exhibitions: J. B. Cobb, Martha Edelheit, Ree Morton, McArthur Binion, Jonathan Borofsky, Mary Obering, Artists Space.” Artforum12 no. 5 (January 1974): 74-76

Marcia Tucker. Unpublished letter to Kitty Carlisle Hart. 12 June 1979. “Nigger Drawings” exhibition file, Artists Space, New York

Winer, Helene. Unpublished letter (partial) to unknown recipient. November 1975. Exhibition files. Artists Space, New York

Wyatt, Susan. Interview by Kim Conaty. Digital recording. 2 December 2004