Transcript of AS-AP Panel at CAA Conference, February 2005

Posted August 05, 2010 by admin

Transcript of AS-AP Panel
"Art Spaces Archives Project : Buried Treasure"
Presented At College Art Association Annual Conference
Atlanta, February 17, 2005

David Platzker [moderator]
Irving Sandler
Marella Consolini
Julie Ault
Yasmin Ramirez
Marvin Taylor

David Platzker: Good afternoon. I want to thank you for coming to attend this panel: Buried Treasure, Art Spaces Archive Project. I'm David Platzker, the project director of AS-AP. On behalf of AS-AP I'd like to thank the College Art Association for making it possible to present this discussion this afternoon.

AS-AP is a new "organization" conceived about two years ago and begun in earnest this past August, with support from the National Endowment for the Arts, the New York State Council on the Arts, and the Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts. Our steering committee includes Rebecca Cederholm from the College Art Association, Linda Earle from Skowhegan, Elizabeth Merena from the New York State Council on the Arts, Betsy Sussler from Bomb Magazine, Marvin Taylor from the Fales Library at New York University, and Martha Wilson.

AS-AP in its initial stages has a mandate to accomplish two national initiatives. First the creation of a location database, a finding guide to the places, spaces, and other centers of avant-garde arts activity, or alternative arts activity, in the United States from the 1950s to the present. Surprisingly, no such index has ever been compiled, and the one we're
developing will be inclusive of nonprofit spaces, nightspots, periodicals, and any other locus of activity, including for-profit, quasi-nonprofit ventures, or any other hubs of activity. We've documented over one thousand of these artistic entities, I and expect that we've ferreted out about less than half of the existing spaces. We're also interested in those spaces that are both living and defunct, which is to say that we're interested in any form of space that existed now or has existed for the last fifty plus years.

Secondly, we're interested in the fiscal state of the archives of these artistic focal points. As most all contemporary alternative or avant-garde arts organizations are by definition interested in embracing the new, not obsessing over the past, AS-AP wants to determine the condition of the historic documents, such as announcement cards, board minutes, correspondence, ephemeral material, fiscal documents, and any other flotsam and jetsam that provides concrete documentation to the artistic residue, as well as more immediate materials such as audio tapes, artistic debris and other artistic residue, if not the artwork itself. These materials, if recognized, have great value, both fiscal and historic. Most venues of artistic avant-garde activity, simply have not had the time, money or desire to do more than throw these materials in boxes and send them into deep storage. AS-AP wants to quantify the extent of the material, ascertain condition, and then, with future financial assistance, be able to provide standards, know-how and funds to help preserve this vital heritage for study by historians.

AS-AP's website, which is, and there's a very helpful card that you can grab from me, to help you remember that, is the beginning or our reaching out to identify this vital data. I want to encourage you to browse the site, where you'll find more information about AS-AP, and the beginning of our index of the avant-garde or alternative movement, as well as other resources. If you're from one of these places or spaces, and you have an archive, we hope that you'll go to the site and check out whether or not you're already indexed, and if you're not, we can have you instantly online. If you're a scholar or other interested party our database is fully searchable, for your own use in discovering the wealth of activity that's incurred in the United States.

In past conferences, I've given a fairly standardized monologue entitled "Your Trash is my Treasure." Prior to giving the lecture I visited a museum curator in New York, and with her permission poked through the contents of her trash can. The things that I find within an institutional trash is breathtaking. Announcement cards from hundreds of institutions, press releases, correspondence, and other items that my friend doesn't think twice about recycling, could be pilfered. It's literally a time capsule of the contemporary art world world-wide. And personally as a dealer of this sort of material, a speculator in trash, I associate value with this material both fiscal and historic. I'd like to impress upon you that there's no substitute for viewing a work of art in person in order to properly study it, but without the supporting material dredged from archives, oral or written history, as well as a circular file, the artwork itself is often unsupportable. With these primary documents becoming endangered by neglect, lack of funds or otherwise, our contemporary history will be a much more difficult story to relate to new generations and scholars. By preserving the history now, AS-AP hopes to ensure the avant-garde history of today will be seen in full in the future.

With that in mind I want to introduce our panel, and lay out our agenda for this afternoon's discussion:

Irving Sandler will speak about artistic venues, beginning in the 1950s with the Arts Club, which was founded in 1949 by pioneering abstract expressionists, and whose panels he arranged from 1956 to 1962, at the infamous Cedar Tavern in New York City.
Additionally Irving's presentation will provide a history of alternative spaces founded in
New York City in the late seventies, such as Artists Space, which he co-founded in 1972 and on whose board he still serves.

Marella Consolini of the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture will discuss practical legal and ethical issues surrounding a seven year initiative to digitize and transcribe Skowhegan's archive of over four hundred lectures, given by its faculty from 1952 to the present.

Julie Ault, whose book, Alternative Art in New York, 1965-1985, which was published in 2002, will outline the conditions, growth and decline of the alternative arts network in New York. Her book is an inspiration to me as it highlights the need to consider alternative movements as broadly as possible.

Yasmin Ramirez will present "Mi Casa Es Tu Casa: Identifying the Spaces and Places of Latino Art Archives," in which she will provide an overview of recent initiatives to catalogue an archive of Latino art spaces, in New York and California, which are often
forgotten by the mainstream alternative movement.

Finally, based on ten years' experience documenting the downtown scene in New York, Marvin Taylor will give an overview of the issues alternative spaces and academic institutions need to consider when discussing acquisitions of archives.

Irving Sandler: Thank you. I started by writing a paper that would take an hour and ten minutes to read. I whittled it down to fifteen minutes. Part of the reason was because we're fairly short on time here, and part of the reason was because out there are
people like Christian, a curator at Artists Space, and Missy Joyce Robinson, who founded
single-handedly the Sharp Foundation that has done fabulous things and indeed functions as an alternative space. There's Jackie Apple and Martha Wilson and I think we ought to provide as much time as we can for these people. I didn't really want to talk too much about the Abstract Expressionist Club, the Club, as it was called in the 8th Street Club --I thought that I'd focus really on the Tanager Gallery, the leading artists' cooperative on 10th street, and also on Artists' Space, and how these organizations functioned.

But, I think before I do, I would like to say that I will be reading a little bit just to save time and not to ramble too much, that it's important to understand that artists' spaces not only provide venues for artists to show, but they also provide spaces for artists to meet, and to share ideas. This discourse is vital, creating art that is not just a matter of doing one's own thing. It also means drawing from and contributing to the vital art of one's time, that is, using the visual and verbal information provided by the art world to shape one's perceptions and ideas, and adding one's perceptions to the art world's aesthetic and intellectual stew. Otherwise, one's art ends up being naïve and irrelevant. As David began to think or define alternative spaces I also did a little bit of that and wondered ... as far as I'm concerned, pretty much any place that an artist--artists--meet, whether it be the Sharp Center in Tribeca or the Cedar Street Tavern, back in the 1950s, they for me constitute an artists' space, an alternative space, but as I said, I want to limit myself this afternoon to the Tanager Gallery and Artists' Space.

I'll briefly outline their histories, but underlying my talk is a message that I hope will be of value to some of you, namely, that if any of you identify the need in your art world, whether it be a need for a gallery, a publication, or a place to meet, or whatever,
then, do it yourself. Call together a few artists and art-conscious people, to find the need,
and meet it. All it takes is vision and energy. Don't wait until you've raised money. We'll have some idea, later on, I hope, from Jackie Apple and Martha Wilson about how much money it took to raise their spaces, in one case, zip.

Begin it on scratch, and move on from there, but begin it. It's not hard to raise money once you've identified a need, developed a good idea and how to meet it, and are underway. Then, just swallow hard and ask rich people for money. And you're going to get it. Major institutions in my city, New York City, were founded by individuals in this manner. Franklin Furnace by Martha Wilson and Jackie Apple, the New Museum by Marcia Tucker, P.S. 1 by Alana Heiss, the Sharp Foundation by Joyce Robinson.

I contributed in small measure to the founding of the New Museum. Marsha Tucker met with me and outlined her project for a new museum. I told her that she would fail. And for an hour or more I detailed every reason why she would fail. Did I discourage
her? Not at all. She later told me that our talk was useful because she learned about the problems that she would face.

Why did artists organize cooperative galleries on 10th street in the 1950s? Simply because there were too few commercial galleries that would show their work. There was also, as I said, the need to talk, to me, to avoid the loneliness after long hours in the
studio, to socialize with kindred spirits, and to receive the assurance of fellow avant-garde artists that their moves into the unknown were not insane. But there was more. What if DeKooning had not met Gorky or Pollock? What if Clifford Still, Mark Rothko, Adolph Gottlieb, Barnett Newman and Ad Reinhard had not become friends? Would Abstract Expressionism have come into being? Or how would it have been different? I wonder.

There were eight cooperative galleries founded, underwritten and operated by artists on and around East 10th street between third and fourth avenues. Artists believed it was important to exhibit on 10th street, to show other artists what they had created. Near the middle of the block was the Tanager Gallery. Founded in 1952, it was first of the cooperatives. Its members hoped to determine art world opinion. I echoed this attitude in a statement I wrote in 1959 on the mission of the Tanager Gallery. I called it "the public extension of the artists' studios. Its shows have reflected the intimate artistic problems that painters and sculptors face, and have proven a means of defining, clarifying and evaluating them." I concluded by dubbing the Tanager "the barometer of the New York art scene" and in retrospect I think for the younger generation, the second generation of abstract expressionists, it did, in large measure, serve that purpose.

The 10th Street galleries tried to be commercial but failed at it.
There were very few sales, but
that did not bother us then. In fact, I may, if there's time, have
time to say a little about this later,
the market for avant-garde art, did not really develop until 1958. So
through most of the fifties
there were very little sales. Well, I can't resist. In the three
years that I ran the Tanager Gallery, I
managed to sell just one work of art. A woman came in, wandered
around, we had a huge
Christmas show, over a hundred works. She sort of wandered around and
came to the desk where
I was writing a review or an article for Art News, and
announced that she wanted to buy
I work of art. Never happened before. We walked over to a little
abstract sculpture of a bull, and
she said "how much is it?" and I said, "it's $125." She paused. I
paused ... thinking it's too much.
I said. "but I know the artist needs the money, I'll let you have it
for $80." She said, "if the artist
needs the money, I'll pay the full amount," and then, "can we keep it
for the duration of the
show?"--"Of course."--"Would you leave a deposit?" -- "Of
course."--"When the show is over,
where should we deliver it?"--"The Museum of Modern Art." I said,
"Oh, and, what's your
name?" She said, "I'm Mrs. Mellon." And I said, "how do you spell
that?" Well that was pure
50s, at least for younger artists.

In 1972 I was asked by Trudie Grace, the director of the Visual Arts
Program of the New York
State Council on the Arts, to administer a program that sent artist
speakers to colleges, many of
which were short of money for extracurricular activities. Working
closely with Trudie Grace in
the office of NYSCA, we were able to decipher its operations, and
both of us became
increasingly sensitive to an inadvertent inequity in the Council's
funding policy, as mandated by
State Legislation, namely that only not-for-profit institutions could
receive grants. This met the
needs of dancers, actors and other performers, who, because of the
nature of their work, founded
companies. It also suited film and video makers who banded together
in order to share the high
costs of their equipment. But visual artists rarely set up
organizations--they work privately, in
their own studios. The Council did provide funds for individual
grants. But that was hardly
enough. Painters and sculptors deserved more, since they had turned
the city into the world
capital of art.

Trudie Grace and I raised the issue within the Council, it's higher
ups responded sympathetically
and asked us to formulate projects that would be of general use to
artists. We then invited small
groups of artists of the diverse ages, aesthetics and positions
within the art world to meet with us
in order to identify the needs of artists and to designate programs
to alleviate them, and it was at
that point that I and Trudie figured out something that has really
guided all of my art world
activities, that if you want to know what the needs of artists are,
talk to artists, they'll tell you.
The artists we called together agreed that a distressing problem
facing many excellent New York
artists was the lack of venues in which to exhibit their art.
Moreover there was a great deal of
noncommercial art, much of it anti-commercial--that is conceptual,
anti-form and so on, that
private galleries did not show. We presented the plan for a new
gallery and a half-dozen other
projects, and assumed that our job was done. The heads of the Council
accepted our proposal but
informed us that its mandate was to fund arts groups, not to
administer their programs. We were
then asked to incorporate ourselves into a not-for-profit
organization, and, with a grant from
NYSCA, put into effect the projects we devised.

In the spring of 1973, Trudie Grace and I opened Artists Space. From
the first we placed policy-
making directly in the hands of artists. We decided that at least
half of the board of Artists Space
board members would be artists. That would make us different from
typical arts organizations
that are controlled by non-artist bureaucrats. We also recognized the
need for tough-minded
administration. Indeed Artists Space succeeded largely because it was
able to couple the
imagination of artists when they face the problems of their own
community with the skill of a
staff adept at Mickey Mouse bookkeeping and writing the elaborate and
stringent grant proposals
demanded by public and private funding organizations. We decided that
each artist to be shown
should be selected by a relatively well-known or established artist
on a one-to-one basis. This
procedure had the advantage of turning over decision powers to
artists, of being public because
the names of the selectors would be announced, and of avoiding the
compromises and tedium of
a committee process. We assume that the art-conscious public on the
whole would, if only out of
curiosity, wish to see what work a known artist believed to be
significant, particularly if the
venue was easy to reach. We also agreed that each selector would have
only a single choice, and
that an unaffiliated artist would be shown only once. Thus no person
or group could dominate
the gallery. We also decided that the gallery would pay for the costs
of the exhibition--all the
costs. If anything was sold, all the proceeds would go to the artist.
We would fund our operations
in ways other than collecting commissions from those we were meant to

To make Artists Space more useful to the community, we made the space
available after hours,
to performing artists, poets, multi-media artists, film and video
artists, and art advocacy groups
from within the art world. We also arranged panel discussions and
lectures on issues of interest
to our constituency. Much as we tried we did not succeed in selling
art. Since we exhibited artists
only once we could not represent them as commercial galleries could.
Dealers invited many of
the artists we showed to join their galleries and the artists did. We
became a feeder for those
galleries, a kind of farm team for the majors. We did launch dozens
of soon-to-be famous artists
and a first show at Artists Space quickly became an important career

In 1976 Artists Space hired Helene Weiner as its Executive Director.
She believed that our
program of artists choose artists had ceased to be interesting to the
art world. And she proposed
that we maintain the practice of giving unaffiliated artists
individual shows, and focusing on
them, but that we also curate thematic shows of new art, not readily
accommodated by
commercial galleries, and that we support the work with adequate
documentation, catalogues and
the like. Weiner gave Artists Space a new life. As have the
subsequent directors, who, in
response to changing artists' needs, change the gallery's policies.
This continues in Artists Space
today, under the directorship of Barbara Hunt.

The problem that alternative spaces--I should say problems--face
today, is to justify their
existence. In a time of total pluralism, with a huge number of new
commercial galleries, certainly
in New York, what role can alternative spaces play? It is true that
decisions in alternative spaces
are made on the basis of criteria different from commercial
galleries, and there is not the pressure
of selling. Our problem becomes as it was in the past, what are the
critical issues that artists face
today, that commercial galleries don't or won't deal with?

Thank you.


Marella Consolini: It's really hard to follow Irving. It's a
hard act to follow as the
saying goes. My name is Marella Consolini, I'm one of two Executive
Directors at the
Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, and we have a big audio
archive that we have
done something with. And to put it in sort of context, if you're not
familiar with Skowhegan, I
have a three-minute video that I'm going to show that includes
excerpts from a couple of the
lectures and it's kind of exciting to see, and, well, sorry, to hear,
really, so let me just push the

Skowhegan is wonderful and magical, but, what I'm really bringing to
the panel this afternoon is
kind of a case study, everybody's going to be talking about
alternative spaces and archives in lots
of different ways, but, Skowhegan has taken an audio archive, and,
over seven years and a lot of
money, got it into some considerable shape and done some wonderful
things with it. It's
impossible, as Irving--you know, he took an hour and a quarter and
put into fifteen minutes, I
can't do seven years in fifteen minutes, so really, I thought the
best thing that I could do is offer
you kind of a time line, and, not an agenda exactly but a description
of the steps that we went
through in our archive, and I know that David is going to be, in his
role as moderator, later,
asking questions and you guys will be asking questions and that
probably is the opportunity to go
into any more detail.

But what we have, as you saw, I mean the David Smith lecture, you
know, from the 50s, is
fantastic, we also, I mean, Ad Reinhard spoke at Skowhegan six months
before he died. The list
is phenomenal, and really represents the crème de la crème of postwar
primarily American
artists, and it's not just painters, sculptors, etc, it's also we
have a Mellon fellow (that's M-e-l-l-
o-n!) who's a humanities speaker every summer, so in addition to the
artists we have architects,
poets, writers, philosophers, dancers, it really runs the gamut, so
it's an incredible cultural
resource. So we had like six hundred reel to reel tapes sitting in
our office in New York, sitting
in a room that occasionally had a leek in it, from the ceiling, and
that's a reality, I think that a lot
of people here are dealing with at the very beginning. What are you
doing with your archives,
where's the material being stored, what kind of archival
consideration is being given to it?

So we had all these reel to reels and this actually started, I've
been involved with it for the last
four of its seven years, that this kind of has gone from start to
finish. But the board finally said,
OK, we're sitting on something important here we really have to do
something. The lectures
have been recorded at Skowhegan since 1952, and 99% of the time
they're accompanied by
slides, cause usually they're the artists talking about their own
work. We do in fact have the
majority of those slides, but when we decided to address the audio
archive, the question of
images, and protecting the artists rights and copyright was really
big and scary. And so we
decided to focus just on the audio, and as part of the package of the
archive, when it goes to
institutions who now are housing it all over the country, we're very
clear that if a scholar,
researcher or artist for whatever reason wants / needs access to
those images, the chances are
decent that we have them and we can on a one-to-one basis make them
available to them. But the
visual thing was very big.

So what we did first is, we had to determine the condition physically
of the tape, the recording
tape on these reel to reels, so we hired a consultant, he told us
what he thought, what we needed
to then do was tight-wind them, which is a process that is exactly
what it sounds like and before
you can do anything with audio tape, especially old audio tape, it
needs to be unwound and
rewound on the wheels, so we did that. Then, this is all, these
things are happening, often,
simultaneously, I mean I'm giving you a list like this, but often it
was sort of a jumble and we
had a committee made up of some of our artist board members, our
governors and our trustees,
who were kind of the steering committee for this. Next we had to
decide what format we were
going to transfer them to and something that I'm going to talk about
in a minute is that, well, you
probably can believe how dramatically quickly the technology was
changing, is changing, will
change. This is also a really big deal. And if you ask me a lot of
technical questions I'm just
going to blush and say I don't know. But at that time that we made
this decision we ultimately
decided to digitize them, and put them onto CDs. Our most basic
thinking being, once they're in
a digital format, whatever is coming in the future--and it's a whole
other mindset to try to
prepare yourself for things that you can't even conceive of, in terms
of technology. And it's
happened already in the four years that I've been working on this

But that's what we decided to do, was go with a digital-based medium,
and we bought at the
time, the most archival CDs that we could get, which are gold backed.
It's all going to change
before those CDs wear out. Then of course we had to start raising
money. We raised a little bit of
seed money from a foundation that one of our trustees is a part of,
we got a small NEA grant, and
then ultimately, the Luce Foundation gave us $150,000, which was
fabulous and took care of
everything we needed to do including transcribing the majority of the
archive, which is sort of a
separate issue.

One of the kind of philosophical things that we had to address
Sandler: was there an aspect of
this archive that could be or would be commercial and money producing
for us? And we
ultimately decided no. I mean we certainly could have gone that way,
but we're talking in our
case about four hundred artists who have given lectures, some of them
more than once, so, the
archive at this point is actually closer to five hundred lectures,
but approximately four hundred
lecturers, which, in case you're interested, is eight hundred CDs,
because often they run longer
than one CD's worth of time. So we made a decision, no, whatever we
were going to do with the
archive, we weren't going to sell it, we weren't going to publish it,
and, as part of that same
discussion, well, I'm getting ahead of myself a little bit, but, then
we had to start talking to
lawyers, because we had to start determining where really copyright
and intellectual property
rights centered with all of these artists, because technically they
had been in Skowhegan's
employ when they gave these lectures, it's part of all of our
faculty . . . all of our faculty give a
lecture as part of their being a faculty member at Skowhegan.

So technically, really, probably, the copyright belonged to us, but
we felt that the right thing to
do was to get the permission from each and every artist, estate, or
artist representative, to do
something with this archive. At this point we knew what we wanted to
do, we wanted to give
away a certain amount of them, as complete entities, to institutions,
research institutions,
libraries, museums, across the country, and because of the Luce
Foundation grant, we were able
to give away five sets. After those five were given away, we now have
a materials and
administration fee, per set, which is $9500, but that really just
covers our cost to dupe a set, and
the time and energy that goes into labeling them, organizing them,
etc, etc.

So we talked to lawyers and we decided that, yes, we wanted to ask
every artist for permission. It
took us over a year just to get the language comfortable for the
letters that were going to the
artists, and then ultimately the letters that were going to the
institutions that were going to be
receiving them as gifts, because there are certain conditions, just a
few, actually, but, for
example, it is a non-circulating archive, it's research only, that
was really important to us, again
as a step to protect the artists. But the language, you know, lawyers
being lawyers, the first
versions of what they wrote would have sent the artists screaming
into the night. It's very scary
what those things say, you know, I sign away, unequivocally, my right
to blah blah blah, and, I
keep going back to these guys and saying, you don't understand, you
know, the delicate nature of
this, and we finally did it, but, as I say the legal work alone, just
to get the letters written right
probably took a year.

What happened next was we had to locate all the artists. Right. That
was, that was time
consuming. And, but we did. We located actually out of four hundred
and change lecturers, we
ultimately only could not find thirty-two, which I thought was pretty
good. But I have great staff,
and they really got very very good at searching the internet and
phonebooks, and tracking down
cold leads, you know, like on TV. So we send them the letters, now do
you think that they wrote
us back right away and said, sure you can have permission!? I don't
think so. It took another
year, basically, to follow up, and to get them, and calling pretty
much every one of them. We
sent them each a copy of the CD, at this point we had digitized the
archive, and we sent them
their own lecture or lectures, so that they could hear it, and really
be fully informed. Only ten
people said no, and mostly their reasons were that they felt in their
case the visuals were such a
key component of the lecture that they just didn't feel right having
the audio out there without
the visual. It's a fair comment. But I thought that was a pretty,
pretty strong response, that we
only got ten no's.

We started to transcribe them. That took about three years. I had at
any one time between five
and seven people all over the country, transcribing them. I'd send
them the CD, or, in some cases
the cassette tape because a lot of them didn't have the equipment to
transcribe from CDs. And
we just kept this process going, and they would refer friends, or
they'd have to, you know, go
back to school, and, that was quite a networking opportunity. And
then, really, I guess once we
selected the institutions, which was based on a geographical spread,
as well as the facilities they
were able to offer.

The five initial institutions who received the archive were the
Getty, the Archives of American
Art, in Washington at the Smithsonian, Museum of Modern Art in New
York, Art Institute of
Chicago, and Colby College in Maine, because we have a longstanding
very close relationship
with Colby.

And Colby, interestingly, so there are five fantastic institutions,
Colby has dedicated a fulltime
person to create, they're the ones who have done all the cataloguing,
to go up on the big, it's
called OCLC [Online Computer Library Center], some of you will know
what that is, it's a, an
internet library, cataloguing, reference system, and feel free to
correct me if I've butchered that.
So Colby, and they're doing a gateway website, so if you type in
Skowhegan lecture archive, it
takes you to Colby's gateway website and has links to all the
institutions and a little history, and
a listing of the lectures, and a listing of which ones are
transcribed, it's really fabulous. The
transcriptions got a little sticky, because suddenly, some of the
institutions were talking about
putting them online. And, I just hadn't really thought about it, and
had to ultimately say no, and
write more letters and explain why. It's a fair enough request, but
for us we couldn't do it
because it was the equivalent of publishing them, and also sort of, a
question of, well then why
are we selecting so carefully the institutions that get to house this
wonderful archive, if you're
going to put the material online, it doesn't really make sense.

So, that's kind of a snapshot of what the process was like for us. So
again that was seven years
and 150, 160, 170 . . . about $180,000 to do the whole thing, and I
actually think that we were
able to do that very economically. $180,000, to digitize and
transcribe let's say five hundred
lectures from six hundred reels. I would say to people who are facing
something like this and
obviously there are so many different media, visual, audio,
combination, everything in between.
What I said before, keep an open mind to try to prepare for what you
don't know is really hard.
But you can do the best you can, and you're just going to need to
keep, sort of revising what you
think you're doing, and other people will help you, I mean there are
a lot of people out there, I
learned so much from the institutions that are housing the archive,
because they're working with
the stuff, these materials and these issues all the time whereas I'm
just this tiny little isolated
person in New York who kind of inherited this big project. But the
librarians and the archivists
are phenomenally knowledgeable and very generous about sharing that
information, and very
supportive, I mean those people are just wonderful. My husband is a
magazine editor and he just
told me the other day, we were talking about this, and he said in the
magazine world, when the
contracts go out to writers, it says that the magazine has control
over their material in all media,
currently existing and in the future--that's broad, that covers a
lot, you know and that's kind of
how you need to think.

I think that's pretty much all I have to say, aside from what
important work this is and everybody
that's here participating and listening, you know, has a different
level of involvement or interest
in this, but it's really worth all the time and energy and money
because this is our history. And
especially in the arts and especially coming out of alternative
spaces, and I'm not going to take it
personally that Irving didn't list Skowhegan as an alternative space,
cause he told me before he
started that he was going to, so I know it just slipped his mind.
But, you know, the spaces and the
material that comes out of them occupies just, like I said, a huge
range of ways, and it's so, so
important, so, yeah, good luck.


Julie Ault: You know I'm actually from Maine but I never saw
it look so lovely as in
that film. So in my fifteen minutes I'm going to go back to New York
and complement some of
the histories that Irving started to raise and talk about, and I'm
going to outline the conditions,
and the growth and decline of the alternative arts network of the 70s
and 80s, in New York City
specifically, which is the subject of the book that I edited. As
well, in this discussion I want to
raise some issues that have to do with the politics of archiving and
historicizing that were
highlighted for me as I was researching the field of alternative
spaces and group structures, many
of which are ad hoc to some degree, and difficult to apprehend
information on. This is clearly
going to be a very short, short version of events geared toward the
format of this panel, but my
comments derive from the introduction to the book and then extend a
little bit out of that, into
some contemporary thoughts on the subject of historiography.

The traditional methodologies and institutional structures of the art
world have been
fundamentally challenged in recent decades. During the 1970s and
early 1980s, many artist
initiated spaces, and group structures were established as responses
to the explicit and implied
limitations of the commerce-oriented art world. Critical efforts to
theorize representation as a
contested arena, and to create venues for self-representation and
distribution were generated by
and accommodated in these sites.

Relations between changing conceptions and forms of art practice, and
the kinds of places and
spaces that art circulated in, as well as the desire to battle
constructively the disillusionment
engendered by the established art system, led to the creation of New
York's alternative sector in
the 1970s. Alternative strategies for artmaking and venues for new
forms of art emerged with a
degree of simultaneity.

While some alternative groups created spaces that proposed a counter-
aesthetic to the white
walls and track lighting of the generic gallery, others emulated that
formulaic environment in
order to legitimate their endeavors. Some groups functioned on an ad
hoc basis with loose
membership, and others operated with a tightly defined mission and a
fixed structure.
Organizations founded in the initial period of New York's alternative
arts movement fit into
several classifications. Many fit into more than one category. For
instance, and these are just a
couple of examples that could call up to mind each category ... For
instance, experimental
exhibition spaces such as 112 Workshop and Fashion Moda were
established. Venues for
exhibiting the work of unaffiliated artists, such as Artists Space,
were set up. Some exhibition
spaces originated in response to needs of a particular group of
people, for example A.I.R.
Gallery, and Just Above Midtown. Medium-based venues, such as the
Drawing Center, Printed
Matter, and The Kitchen were started. Artist-run or artist-centered
spaces, including ABC No
Rio, and The Alternative Museum were founded, as were cooperative
galleries, including 55
Mercer, and SoHo 20. Many neighborhood and alternative museums, which
articulate identity
for groups of people, or kinds of art not usually represented in the
existing museums were
conceived. These included the Studio Museum in Harlem, El Museo del
Barrio, and The New
Museum. Organizations which facilitate art in public and in
previously underutilized places, for
instance, Creative Time, The Public Art Fund, and P.S. 1, form
another category. The Black
Emergency Cultural Coalition, Political Art Documentation and
Distribution, known as PAD / D,
Art Workers' Coalition, COLAB, and Group Material, the collaborative
I was a part of for
sixteen years, were collectives with socio-political cultural

The establishment of these kinds of organizations resulted in a not-
for-profit alternative arts
network. Their diverse goals ranging from "wanting a slice of the
pie," to "wanting nothing less
than a revolution," embodied a cultural, political and artistic

The proliferation of such alternative spaces and groups was time-and
context-based. A
convergence of socio-economic factors led to the flourishing of
cultural production in New York
City. During the alternative network's growth period, New York was
composed of a culturally,
racially, and ethnically diverse population in flux. There was an
abundance of artists in the city.
Cultural and political activism of the late 1960s and early 1970s--
civil rights, the anti-Vietnam
War movement, and feminism-- affected many people's consciousness and
activities. Affordable
residential and commercial rents were available. A plethora of
neglected urban sites, spaces and
places in transition, as well as a less restricted public sphere than
the present, supported efforts to
extend art beyond the studio and gallery circuit. The city was then a
powerful art center. Finally,
the growth of public subsidy for culture coincided with all these

State and Federal Funding for the arts was critical to the emergence
and development of
alternative art structures. The National Endowment for the Arts had
been founded in 1965, and
by 1972, had established a Visual Arts funding category called
"Workshops" to support newly
founded artist-centered organizations. By 1982, that category had
become "Visual Artists'
Organizations." Funding allocated to the sector increased throughout
the 1980s, until 1989, when
Congress began to hack away at the NEA's legitimacy, as well as its
budget, eventually
dismantling its efficacy. By 1995 the category of support for Visual
Artists' Organizations no
longer existed.

Although public funding was essential to the growth of the field, a
dilemma alternative spaces
and structures faced was the onset of bureaucracy and hierarchy that
accompanied it. Openness
and commitment to flexibility in programming as well as in daily
operations were frequently
sacrificed to the demands of funding constancy, which mandated
conventional, static
administrative processes and structures. Over time, as the
organizations that composed an
alternative sector adopted business models of order, and became
entrenched in routines resulting
from funding guidelines, new disillusionment occurred among artists,
this time with the
alternatives themselves.

On another track, the art market expanded tremendously in the 1980s.
Mainstream media
glamorizations which rendered art profitable and superficial in the
mid-80s were quickly
followed by the Christian Right's demonization of artists and
portrayal of art as a moral threat to
American society. Against this backdrop, congressional forces
effectively initiated their agenda
to "get the government out of culture," leaving artists to fend for
themselves economically and
philosophically, and leaving art to prove itself, or not, in the
marketplace of ideas. The
alternative and nonprofit arts network, the environment that fostered
critical, experimental and
controversial art, was a primary casualty of the so-called culture

In the early 1990s, the dismantling of the city's residential rent
control and stabilization system
was overseen by Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. A series of subsequent real
estate booms linked to art
districts contributed to making space a tremendously precious
commodity in New York.
Commercial rents were traditionally subject to unregulated increases,
but they have virtually
skyrocketed in areas such as the East Village, SoHo and Chelsea, as
art districts formed.

Growth, competition, skyrocketing rents, and eventual exodus are
factors built into the creation
and demise of commercial art districts in New York City. Once,
alternatives and nonprofits could
fit in here and there, nestled in an existing art area or functioning
as their own outposts. Now,
however, affordable physical space has virtually disappeared in the
face of the current real-

As they struggled to sustain financial solvency for their spaces and
organizations, people got
worn out. Missions and methods became outmoded. Although some
alternative arts
organizations struggled unsuccessfully to survive, many that are now
defunct, were strategic and
time-based by definition. Other endeavors have retooled their
missions and become
institutionalized, despite their alternative or experimental origins.
Some continue their activities
with their original mission more or less intact. Still others have
been incorporated into larger
structures. The list of alternative spaces, groups and organizations
once constituted a vibrant
cultural network, but have closed their doors, or dissolved, in
recent years, signals the
disintegration of an alternative art sphere as once known. There is
only a vestige of that
particular network remaining, whereas previously, there was an
alternative art world made up of
venues and voices, practices and projects, agendas and events,
embedded in New York City's art

So several questions emerge at this juncture. Where have alternatives
and challenges to the status
quo of the art industry since located? What forms have they taken?
What happened with the
political, cultural and social agendas and practices that catalyzed
the field initially? Some argue
that structural changes have occurred within the institutions and
system which were critiqued and
challenged by alternative initiatives. Some say that the notion of
center and alternative was
always problematic, both in theory and practice. (I'm hearing yes,
next to me. Yeah. [Laughter])
Some say, now, everything is possible within the mainstream art
world, that an alternative
network is no longer necessary. Having worked in this field for over
twenty years, I can attest to
many welcome changes within it, to widened institutional doors, to
dislodged hierarchies and
boundaries between mediums, and to new degrees of cultural
democratization. I can also attest to
enduring opposition to the overhaul of the art industry posited by
many individuals and groups
through analysis, protest, dialogue and example. Despite that, I
would like to believe that critical
alternative activities have permanently altered accepted notions and
possible definitions and
functions of art.

For many group structures and alternative spaces, archiving is beyond
the means of time and
money available to them. It is important to register into history
these activities, particularly
activities which don't circulate with objects, or circulate
commercially, or get easily historicized.
Specific narratives about people, society and history take shape from
using archives, depending
on what is contained therein. Interpretation is influenced by what is
looked at or studied, and
with what filters and expectations. Because they are repositories of
documents or "facts,"
archives seem to tell the truth, and they do so with a degree of
authority. Archives tell truths, but
they can also "lie" through omission, or mislead. Connecting the dots
between discrete
documents, and discovering relations between information, in other
words producing meaning, is
what is at the heart of research and historical inquiry. But the
"facts" housed within a particular
archive are not necessarily systematic. They are often fragmentary,
disconnected from context,
and sometimes even random. Crucial pieces of information, which might
answer questions, to
suggest particular narratives, or unlock mysteries, are not
necessarily archived or available.

Historiography, whether done traditionally, or with alternative
methods and tools, is a creative
practice, and a form of production, which ultimately embodies the
process of uncovering,
discovering and recovering. What is at stake in the discussion of how
archives function is access
to experience--our own and others--articulations of history, specific
conditions, as well as more
abstract conceptions of events in time, are produced through such
engagements. Cultural
formations, especially those that spring from alternative
philosophies, and act as counter-models
to dominant cultures seem to contradict and evade principles of
containment and preservation.
The dangers of losing access to our own histories and depriving
people in the future of valuable
information and models are clearly signposted in this realm, and the
necessity for creative and
conscious archiving is highlighted.

I apologize that my comments are a bit more about the decline than
anything else of that period, I
suspect that Yasmin and Marvin's presentations are both going to
offer insights into current
archiving initiatives, and that'll end us on a more positive note.
Thank you.


Yasmin Ramirez: By the way, I just wanted to make clear when
you talked about the
alternative versus the mainstream model being problematic that Hal
Foster was one of my
professors at Columbia and we would often clash in our perspectives.
His whole thing was:
"There is no outside, Yasmin, there is no alternative. There is only
the margin and, even that's


I always disagreed and I went my own way [Laughter] In any case here
is my talk called "Mi
Casa es Tu Casa: Documenting Latino and Latin American Artist

Latino artists, specifically Puerto Ricans, in New York, a.k.a.
Nuyoricans, and Mexican
Americans / Chicanos in California in the Southwest, were at the
forefront of establishing not-
for-profit artist-run galleries in the 1970s. But despite our best
efforts to rid ourselves and the
academy of institutional prejudices involving race, class and
language, these biases are insidious,
and continue to structure our idea of " American art". Having just
completed my dissertation on
Puerto Rican artists in New York, I've concluded that the
invisibility of Nuyorican artists in
mainstream art history surveys is the result of a constellation of
forces that include, A) A
backlash against pluralism and multiculturalism, launched by
conservative critics on the grounds
that heterogeneity in the arts reflects a decline in aesthetic and
moral standards. B) The
promotion of abstract expressionism, pop minimalism and conceptual
art as the definitive
vanguard movements in postwar America, that subsequently reduces
other forms of expression
to secondary or rear-guard status. C) Lingering resistance towards
incorporating Puerto Ricans
and other artists of Latin American descent into the annals of
American art, because of cultural
and linguistic differences.

Of course, I am hardly a lone or original voice in the Academy that
has taken issue with
institutional prejudices. Among the most vocal and influential
critics concerning the
representation of Latin American and Latino art in the United States
are Shifra Goldman, Tomas
Ybarras-Frausto, Edward Sullivan, Chon Noriega, Rita Gonzalez, Arlene
Davila, Karen Mary
Davalos, Alicia Gaspar De Alba, and Mari-Carmen Ramirez, whose
groundbreaking essay,
"Beyond the Fantastic," criticized curatorial paradigms that
fetishize Latin American artists as
other-worldly or outside the western cannon.

Presently the curator of Latin American Art at the Houston Museum of
Fine Arts, Mari Carmen
Ramirez's essays on curatorial praxis, and exhibitions on Latin
American modern and
contemporary art, such as "Inverted Utopias: Avant-Garde in the
Americas," have made
definitive changes in the manner that Latin American artists are
represented / exhibited in the
United States. Through Ramirez's efforts and those of other curators,
and scholars such as Luis
Camnitzer, Monica Amor, Geraldo Mosquera, and George Yudice, there is
a greater interest
among art historians to recover the history of avant-gardism in Latin
America, and exhibit the
full range of activity in the 20th century such as the development of
abstraction, conceptualism,
minimalism, and post-minimalism in Latin American countries.

A cursory look at the Latin American sessions I saw here at CAA
demonstrates that scholarship
on Latin American vanguardism and modernism is increasing. In terms
of archival research,
Mari Carmen Ramirez is spearheading a project that promises to make a
significant contribution
to the field of Latin American and Latino art. Ramirez has founded a
new institution called "The
International Center for Arts of the Americas." The ICAA operates
like a semi-independent
research institute within the Houston Museum of Fine Arts and its
first objective is to create a
digital archive of primary Documents such as manifestos, letters and
writings by artists who
participated in the formation of vanguard art movements in Latin
America, the United States, and
the Caribbean.

Chon Noriega, Director of the Chicano Studies Research Center at UCLA
has initiated two
groundbreaking research projects that concentrate on Latino artists
in the United States. The first
is "A Ver: Revisioning Art History" which involves commissioning
scholars and critics to
complete monographs on Latino artists. The books will be published by
Minnesota University

I am on A Ver's national advisory which includes the following
scholars and curators: Alejandro
Anreus, Gilberto Cardenas, Karen Mary Davalos, Henry Estrada,
Jennifer Gonzalez, Kellie
Jones, Mari Carmen Ramirez and Teresa Romo. We aim to select 10
artists for monographs per
year for the next ten years. We expect that by the year 2020 we will
have helped publish one
hundred monographs on Latino artists.

Secondly, because so many Latino artists have been undocumented, the
Chicano Studies
Research Center is also commissioning oral histories on artists and
encouraging artists to donate
their papers to UCLA and the other research centers we are Partnering
with such as Cuban
Research Institute, The Institute for Latino Studies at Notre Dame,
The Mexican Museum, El
Museo del Barrio and the Center for Puerto Rican Studies in New York.
The CRCS is sharing
the information collected on Latino artists with the ICAA archival
project so one project feeds
into the other.

Henry Estrada, a project director with the Smithsonian Center for
Latino Initiatives is on the A
Ver advisory board and his presence serves to remind us that the
Smithsonian has been a
lynchpin for the above mentioned projects because it is helping to
train future generations of
Latino scholars and archivists.

Among the projects that the Center for Latino Initiatives sponsors is
a summer research seminar
for fifteen graduate students called the Smithsonian Institute for
Interpretation and
Representation of Latino Cultures. Participation in the seminar is
open to Latino graduate
students in the humanities, and the interdisciplinary scope of the
program exposes students from
a variety of fields to career opportunities related to the visual
arts. The program began around
1998 and over the years the Smithsonian has helped create a network
of graduate students and
scholars who are interested in archival research and have since
become associated with ICAA
and A Ver. Additionally, the Smithson sponsors two year long graduate
research fellowships,
and two post-doctoral research fellowships Latino and Latin American

In comparison to the archival projects that are being organized in
Texas, California and
Washington D.C., New York, arguably the center of the international
art world, appears a little
behind the curve. At present, the Museum of Modern Art been given a
very modest grant of
$50,000 to survey Latino art spaces through the New York State
Archives Documentary Heritage
Program. The archives project is being directed by Taina Caragol who,
along with the help of
one intern, has managed to survey about fifteen Latino art spaces in
the last two years, as well as
add about 1,000 new books to MoMA's online bibliography of Latin
American art. Her survey
on the collections of the Center for Puerto Rican Art, Taller
Boricua, The Bronx Museum and
The Americas Society, are available on the MoMA website.

In a recent interview I conducted with Taina Caragol, she noted that
several of the institutions
she surveyed did not want to be publicized on the MoMA website,
because they did not have
enough staff to attend to scholars who want to see their materials.
While cutbacks in the arts have
affected all alternative spaces, Latino art spaces in New York have
historically suffered from
under-funding, and the lack of staff has contributed to the loss,
damage and neglect of their
collections. On a more positive note, the MoMA survey, as well as A
Ver has made Latino artists
aware that there is an interest in their materials. To that end, the
Center for Puerto Rican studies
has given me a modest grant, i.e. $5,000, to begin artist files for
the A Ver project--yeah, it's a
great post-doctoral grant I got here!


No, they're good people and I love them. I mean come on, I know
they're doing the best they

I would like to leave you with the following thoughts. In "An
Undocumented History, a Survey
of Index Citations for Latino and Latina artists," Rita Gonzalez,
observes that Latino artists tend
to be written about in discussions of otherness, folk, outsider art,
or as exemplars of static
minority culture within the United States. I would add that the same
can be said about the artists
spaces that Latino artists founded. For example, with the exception
of Julie Ault's book,
Alternative New York, institution building by Puerto Rican artists in
New York has gone
unnoticed in scholarly writing despite the fact that Puerto Rican
artists founded over twenty-five
alternative spaces in New York.

I'm not going to name all of them but we've got Taller Boricua, El
Museo Del Barrio, The
Nuyorican Poets Café, En Foco, The Alternative Museum, Exit Art, the
Caribbean Culture
Center, Charas El Bohio. In my dissertation I also argued that the
Casitas, which are these little
multipurpose houses set in community gardens that people decorate and
make culture happen in-
-I argued that Casitas are alternative space too, so the number of
Puerto Rican alternative centers
in New York is more like seventy-five. [Laughter] Hey why not make
that case? Anyway, the
omission of these spaces from the historical record is too often
based on the assumption that
community-based or Latino-identified galleries catered to a limited,
or perhaps lowbrow
audience, or that the work exhibited in these spaces is folkloric or
marginal to the mainstream.
Yet anyone familiar with the inner workings of the contemporary New
York art world knows
that Puerto Rican identified alternative spaces served diverse
constituencies in the 1970s and
continue to do so today. The local community is the primary audience,
but these galleries also
serve the mainstream art world by providing places for emerging
artists of color and otherwise to
exhibit in New York, and emerging curators to organize exhibitions.
We're like one of these
"underground" resources in New York.

The Longwood Art Center, in the South Bronx, is a case in point,
founded in 1984 by the Bronx
Council on the Arts, an agency that Bill Aguado, a Nuyorican artist
activist has directed for over
twenty-five years. The Longwood Art Center can boast of nurturing two
artists who won the
Macarthur award, Pepon Osorio and Fred Wilson. Whereas mainstream
dealers curators and
critics are now much more inclined to visit shows of emerging artists
like The S Files at El
Museo del Barrio, and Artists in the Marketplace at the Bronx Museum,
Puerto Rican identified
art spaces rarely received exhibition reviews in the1970s, a fact
that suggests New York art
critics foreclosed a possibility that vanguard work could be found in
galleries that identified
themselves as Puerto Rican or community based.

In sum, A familiar trope that's used to define and sometimes
dismiss Latino alternative spaces is
the idea that they are casitas of art, little houses of art for a
minority population who couldn't get
to the big house of the mainstream museum. But the historical record
proves that Latino artists'
spaces are generous. That they may appear little because there's a
lot crammed inside them. Our
casas de arte can be your casas de arte too, and they have been. You
just have to be willing to
walk in with no preconceptions, to speak a little Spanish and to be
willing to contribute to their
upkeep. Thank you.


One of the things that I wanted to add is that we're really
optimistic about these archival research
projects and about using the internet to our advantage. Many of us
are working with living
artists, and we're hoping that we can finesse this whole copyright
issue, because, you know,
we're familia and expect things are going to be cool. And also, this
issue of archiving alternative
spaces versus artists, well in the case of Puerto Rican artists in
New York you have so many
artists who founded alternative spaces that you get two for one. It's
all in the way you think
about it, so it seems doable to all of us at A Ver and the ICAA, we
all think we can do it, we all
have this belief that it's going to make a big difference. Of course,
I also know that this idea that
we can create these amazing digital image banks that are accessible
to everyone is not going to
be easy. We're just going to try and struggle through it and I hope
you can support us, and you
look out for all these sites. Thank you.


Marvin Taylor: Thank you. I know we're running a little behind
so I'll try to make this
brief. I've entitled my remarks "In the Belly of the Beast," because
when one thinks about
alternative art spaces, one doesn't necessarily think about massive
libraries and institutions like
New York University. I sometimes think that in building the downtown
collection, which is
where the archives that we have of alternative spaces reside, that my
major job, and the major
job of any of us who care very much about this material, is to
mediate between creative people
and the larger structures of culture to make sure that these larger
structures --such as the way
libraries processing books--don't undermine the tenets that were set
out by these alternative
spaces. I'd like your to keep that overarching statement in mind as I
proceed with what I'm going
to say today.