PP: But the perception did come about that Artforum as a whole was the equivalent of the longest, most excessively footnoted Michael Fried essay you could think of. The magazine seemed to say that the most important new art was being made by, and critically championed by, incomprehensible academics displaced to SoHo. As time progressed, however, more and more new art was coming out of the East Village, in both geographical and psychological senses. Also, Artforum’s American-ness became a chauvinism.
JC: American art had begun to feed off itself. So the world changed: the center of artmaking, as you mentioned earlier, shifted from the New York/L.A. axis to the New York/Europe axis. Also, art became more and more careerist in New York. I started to hear artists saying cockamamy things like “I got the lead review in Artforum.” I mean, is the first review in the Friday New York Times the “lead review”? And when I’d put an artist on the cover, six museums and collectors would call the gallery, wanting to buy.
PP: Didn’t the artists themselves start pounding on your desk, asking when were they going to get their covers?
JC: Yes, and a number of dealers began to pressure the magazine, saying they wouldn’t advertise if we didn’t do thus and so. Galleries began to send for me, to take me to lunch, and tell me I wasn’t covering them adequately. Several of the contributing editors also felt that money was beginning to matter too much in the art scene. Michelson, in fact, wanted to turn Artforum into a performance-art magazine to get away from it. [Peter Plagens and John Coplans in conversation on Artforum and the changing Art World]
HUO: If one looks at the museum situation now, creating small structures with flexible spaces seems to be of most importance.
WH: Somewhere in the ’70s in America—and in Europe, too—the idea of the smaller, more independent Kunsthalle rose up. In America, the so-called artist’s space—that whole phenomenon.
HUO: Which leads us back to the laboratory idea.
WH: That’s right. I hope the concept doesn’t disappear. I hope a breed of entrepreneurs will come along who aren’t worried about being chic or fashionable and will keep some of that alive. One damn way or another, some version of that idea has always been around. We don’t have the salon now; we don’t have the big competitive shows in smaller cities, you know? They don’t mean much anymore. Most serious artists don’t submit to those. In a sad way, the old salon is dead.
I’ve been waiting for some breed of artist—some terrible little ancestor of Andy Warhol or whatever—to put out a mail-order catalogue of his or her work independently of the galleries. Whether it’s printed matter or it ends up on the Web, people, without even using galleries, can find interested patrons. This was the thrust of what the East Village was all about. They had artist-entrepreneurs there. Never in SoHo. This market appeared, then died down again, but I think it could happen again. [Hans-Ulrich Obrist talks with Walter Hopps]
WHEN I CALLED THE HOLLY SOLOMON GALLERY in SoHo in 1997 to ask about their 1985 East Village show, the man who answered the phone was aghast. “What are you doing?” he asked incredulously. “Nobody talks about the East Village anymore, nobody. People are taking it off their résumés.” After several years of conducting research, I had come to expect this kind of response. My informants often laughed at the very idea of writing a doctoral dissertation on the East Village art scene of the ’80s. At the same time, they sized up its promotional potential. Was I writing a book? When would it be published? Nobody was talking, but everyone had a story to tell.
… Thinking back on that night, on the crush of happy people about my age who packed the galleries, I remember the air of excitement, as if the East Village were the epicenter of the art world. (I also recall that the bathrooms and closets at the condo were crammed with people snorting cocaine.) The next day a gallery worker (at Vox Populi?) pestered me about buying one of the paintings then on display (I can’t recall the artist’s name or even what the work looked like). They were forty dollars apiece during a one-day-only sale, cash and carry. Though I didn’t buy anything, I was mightily impressed by the style of the scene—the open avenues of possibility, the frontier mentality, the aggressiveness of the sales pitch, the self-representation, the unpretentiousness of it all. This, I thought, was quintessentially American. I admired the way that these artist-entrepreneurs openly traded on the intertwined fortunes of art, entertainment, and commerce, which had covertly defined the Western art world since the late nineteenth century. [Liza Kirwin on the East Village Art Scene]