In January 2011 I curated an exhibition at the David Zwirner Gallery titled 112 Greene Street: The Early Years (1970-1974) featuring work by Gordon Matta-Clark, Tina Girouard, Suzanne Harris, Jene Highstein, Larry Miller, Alan Saret, and Ricahrd Serra.
The exhibition unites a group of works shown at 112 Greene Street in SoHo, one of New York’s first alternative, artist-run venues. Instigated by the artist Jeffrey Lew in October 1970 in close collaboration with Gordon Matta-Clark and Alan Saret, among others, the building became a focal point for a young generation of artists seeking a substitute to New York’s established gallery circuit, then concentrated in midtown and the upper east side.
In the spirit of the early 1970s desire for experimentation and freedom of expression, 112 Greene Street was a unique venue in that it was open to artists from all disciplines and imposed no censorship over their shows. In contrast to the traditional gallery space and the Modernist ideal of a white cube environment, its raw physicality proved both adaptable and malleable for an unremitting variety of creative needs.
In keeping with this flexible, fluid environment, works on display frequently emphasized organic, living qualities, and walls, floors, and ceilings were often modified to accommodate a given proposal. Gordon Matta-Clark became a pivotal artist at the venue, using it as a creative laboratory in which he, among other projects, dug out the basement to create a “guerrilla” garden; recycled glass bottles; papered the walls; offered channels for fresh air; turned a dumpster into an open house; and set out to critique the role of architecture in capitalist society with his “anarchitecture” group.
Other significant artists at 112 included Vito Acconci, Tina Girouard, Suzanne Harris, Jene Highstein, Larry Miller, Richard Nonas, and Alan Saret. Works often involved performances and other site-specific projects, and the space quickly established recognition as a leading forum for live art. Some of the earliest performances by Trisha Brown, The Philip Glass Ensemble, and Mabou Mines were staged at the venue in the years following its opening.
112 Greene Street was a non-commercial space kept afloat by the building’s owner, Jeffrey Lew, and a small number of generous backers he convinced to support the experimental model it proposed. Its audience comprised the local community of artists who lived, worked, and performed together in the surrounding neighborhoods. Moreover, the art on view, characterized by its temporal, fleeting nature, was often disposed of at the end of a show. In general, the exhibited works had little or no market value, but captured the creativity and energy of an artistic scene operating outside the commercial art world.
As such, the building provided the setting for a rare, unique moment of artistic ingenuity, invention, and freedom that was at its peak between 1970 and 1974. Due to growing economic constraints and the rapid commercialization of SoHo, the venue went from being an impulsive, artist-run melting pot to a formal committee-led arts organization. Lew withdrew from the space in 1976 and three years later it relocated around the corner to Spring Street under the new name, White Columns. Now situated in Chelsea, White Columns continues the not-for-profit, experimental ethos of 112 Greene Street, but its wider mission and the changed landscape of today’s contemporary art scene means its link to the earlier space is primarily of a historical significance.
The exhibition at David Zwirner brings together a number of works that Matta-Clark exhibited at 112 Greene Street, along with selected highlights by Acconci, Girouard, Harris, Highstein, Miller, Nonas, and Saret. This represents one of the first times that works shown at the SoHo venue will be exhibited together in another context, some of which will be recreated for the first time since their original installation there. As such, 112 Greene Street: The Early Years (1970-1974) offers a unique vision of the extraordinary spirit that guided their creation.