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“We All Hung Out”: Artists and Community on the Bowery

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Public Programs

“We All Hung Out”: Artists and Community on the Bowery

May 10 2015

“We All Hung Out” is a panel discussion with David Diao, Mary Heilmann, and Billy Sullivan, moderated by Ethan Swan, editor of the New Museum publication Bowery Artist Tribute.
“Living in Chatham Square, on the Bowery…where we all hung out, was the beginning of my having a sense that community was an important part of the work. Before, my model for being an artist was this sort of lone-person up in a garret, where you work all alone all day and then you go out to a bar and just get drunk and get in a fight and then sleep all morning and get back into it. That changed in those years.”
—Mary Heilmann, quoted in Bowery Artist Tribute, 2010

Lured by cheap rents and vast lofts, artists began populating the Bowery in the late 1950s. By 1965, there were over one hundred painters living along the Bowery, among them Cy Twombly, Robert Indiana, Al Loving, and Elizabeth Murray. While the lofts themselves remained the primary attraction, with each new artist’s arrival, a second draw emerged: a growing artistic community. This unplanned, creative network impacted hundreds of artists, accelerating the exchange of ideas, generating systems for sharing resources, and staving off the isolation and self-doubt of a studio practice. In conjunction with Lower East Side History Month, this panel discussion invites three painters who have lived and worked on the Bowery to reflect on this creative community and the effect it’s had on their individual practices.

David Diao (b. 1943) is a painter whose work has often been described as “Conceptual Abstraction.” Grounded in monochrome fields and flat, geometric forms, Diao’s works look critically at personal, political, and art historical narratives. In 2014, the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum in Ridgefield, Connecticut, presented “David Diao: Front to Back,” a midcareer retrospective exhibition, and the Whitney Museum of American Art included his work in its biennial.

Mary Heilmann (b. 1940) is one of the preeminent artists of her generation—a pioneering painter whose work injects abstraction with elements from popular culture and craft traditions. A “painter’s painter,” Heilmann is known for a straightforward, seemingly loose and casual approach that belies a witty dialogue with art historical preconceptions. Her museum retrospective “To Be Someone,” organized by the Orange County Museum of Art, toured the US from 2007 to 2009 and traveled to the New Museum in 2008.

The paintings, drawings, and photographs of Billy Sullivan (b. 1946) are tribes to the beauty of fleeting moments. Each portrait acts as a document of time, freezing such natural acts as eating, reading, or resting. In 2007, Guild Hall Museum in East Hampton, New York, mounted Sullivan’s first one-person museum survey, and his work was shown in the 2006 Whitney Biennial.