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Alternatives in Retrospect: Artist-run Spaces in the 1970s and 1980s

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Public Programs

Alternatives in Retrospect: Artist-run Spaces in the 1970s and 1980s

October 5 2012

New York nurtured many alternative art spaces in the 1970s and 1980s, crucial venues for fostering community and supporting young artists. Reflecting both local concerns and international movements, these spaces provided artists and curators with the opportunity to present challenging work, address current events, and renegotiate the definition of art. Taking its title from a 1981 New Museum exhibition, this panel discussion looks at the ways in which artists created and took control of their own contexts.


Stefan Eins is an artist and curator based in New York. From 1973–77, he operated 3 Mercer, a storefront exhibition space in his residence. For the exhibition “Alternatives in Retrospect,” Virginia Piersol described 3 Mercer as having “a kind of salon atmosphere where artists could hang out, talk, drink coffee almost any afternoon for several years.” During its five years of existence, 3 Mercer presented countless exhibitions, including solo presentations by artists including Willoughby Sharp, Virginia Piersol, and Dieter Froese. In 1978, Eins cofounded Fashion Moda, an alternative arts space located in the South Bronx, with Joe Lewis.

Coleen Fitzgibbon is an active experimental film artist who operated her storefront residence at 5 Bleecker Street as an exhibition space from 1977–79. In 1977, Fitzgibbon cofounded Collaborative Projects, Inc., (Colab) along with forty-plus artists, a creative density which demanded venues for production. 5 Bleecker hosted three formative exhibitions during this time: “Income and Wealth,” “The Manifesto Show” (co-organized with Jenny Holzer), and “Just Another Asshole” (co-organized with Barbara Ess and Jane Sherry).

Becky Howland is a sculptor and painter based in New York City. In 1980, as a member of the Committee for the Real Estate Show (CRES), she co-organized “The Real Estate Show,” which occupied an abandoned building on Delancey Street. The ensuing clash with the Department of Housing Preservation and Development led to the establishment of ABC No Rio, a community center for art and activism. As one of the original co-organizers of ABC No Rio, Howland helped develop many exhibitions and performances, including “The Island Show” (1981), exploring the shared insularity of Manhattan, Puerto Rico, and the Dominican Republic; “Brainwash” (1982), an outdoor fountain installed in the backyard of ABC No Rio; and “The Williamsburg Bridge Show” (1983), a large-scale sculpture show installed on the bridge’s neglected promenade.

Joe Lewis is a non-media-specific post-studio artist, administrator, community developer, and activist. From a young age, Lewis worked at the intersection of social activism and creative activity, singing with his father at protests and participating in street theater. In 1978, Lewis cofounded Fashion Moda with Stefan Eins. As director of Fashion Moda, Lewis curated and mounted more than thirty-five exhibitions and 120 performance events nationwide, including “Events: Fashion Moda” (1980) at the New Museum. Lewis is presently Dean of the Claire Trevor School of the Arts at UC Irvine.

Walter Robinson, Moderator: Walter Robinson is a painter, writer, publisher, and art critic. He began writing reviews for Art in America shortly after arriving in New York in 1968. In 1973, Robinson, Joshua Cohn, and Edit deAk began publishing Art-Rite magazine, a radical journal that promoted conceptual, antimarket artistic practices. In the 1980s, he was the art editor for the East Village Eye and, for sixteen years, he served as the editor-in-chief of the online Artnet magazine.