A mo­ment in the sun The in­flu­ence of Park Place Gallery


Pasatiempo - - CONTENTS -

New York City’s his­toric Tribeca neigh­bor­hood wasn’t al­ways the up­scale res­i­den­tial area full of swanky bars and res­tau­rants that it is to­day. From the mid-19th cen­tury on, the neigh­bor­hood was a cen­ter for the tex­tile and cot­ton trade, but by the mid-20th cen­tury, the fac­to­ries in this lower Man­hat­tan district had all but closed. The area be­came an in­dus­trial waste­land, earn­ing it the moniker Hell’s Hun­dred Acres. A 1960 cen­sus listed just 382 per­ma­nent res­i­dents liv­ing in Tribeca, less than half of the pop­u­la­tion from a decade be­fore. If you lived there at that time, chances are you knew most of your neigh­bors. Here, artists some­times es­tab­lished their own venues and, as was the case with Park Place Gallery, th­ese were grass­roots ef­forts. Sur­round­ing them was a buzz and en­ergy that gets men­tioned fre­quently when art crit­ics, artists, and art his­to­ri­ans dis­cuss the 1960s New York art scene.

“To be young and to be there at that time was re­ally great,” artist Patsy Krebs told the au­di­ence at a re­cent gallery talk at David Richard Gallery. “For one thing, it was such a small com­mu­nity that some­body like me — and there were many peo­ple like me; I hadn’t even gone to school yet, re­ally, to study art — I could just walk up and knock on some­body’s door, and you could say, ‘I just wanted to see what you were do­ing. What are you work­ing on now?’ — and you were wel­come.” Krebs is one of the artists who showed at Park Place and is in­cluded in David Richard’s cur­rent ex­hi­bi­tion Park Place Gallery: Founders and Friends, Then and Now.

Park Place Gallery was es­tab­lished in 1963 at 79 Park Place in down­town Man­hat­tan. Ac­cord­ing to Krebs, the gallery had an in­for­mal start as a gath­er­ing place for artists. “Park Place was in a very funky loft build­ing,” Krebs told the au­di­ence. “I think there were three floors oc­cu­pied by artists and there was a top floor that was empty. At some point, peo­ple in the build­ing just started putting work up there. That was re­ally the be­gin­ning of the Park Place Gallery.” David Richard is show­ing works from the time of the gallery’s ex­is­tence, along with later ca­reer works from the found­ing mem­bers and their con­tem­po­raries.

When Park Place’s lease ex­pired af­ter just a cou­ple of years, sev­eral of the artists who had been show­ing there moved to a new, per­ma­nent lo­ca­tion at 542 West Broad­way, rechris­ten­ing the space as Park Place, The Gallery of Art Re­search, Inc. Paula Cooper, who served as pres­i­dent of the cor­po­ra­tion, be­came its se­cond and last di­rec­tor in 1966. The name change is sig­nif­i­cant be­cause it re­flects the ex­per­i­men­tal con­cerns of the group, whose found­ing mem­bers in­cluded five painters (Dean Flem­ing, Ta­mara Melcher, David Novros, Ed­win Ruda, and Leo Valle­dor) and five sculp­tors (Mark di Su­vero, Peter Fo­rakis, Robert Grosvenor, An­thony Ma­gar, and For­rest My­ers). David Richard is show­ing works by three of the Park Place found­ing mem­bers (Flem­ing, Ruda, and Valle­dor), and friends and co-ex­hibitors at Park Place: Patsy Krebs, Linda Flem­ing, Ron­nie Land­field, Robert Swain, Neil Wil­liams, and Mario Yris­arry.

Krebs was a friend and some­time ex­hibitor at the space. “I was twenty-two, and I came from Cal­i­for­nia,” she said. “It was a unique time for us be­cause Ab­stract Ex­pres­sion­ism had been the mode. [Willem] de Koon­ing and [Mark] Rothko and all that group were re­ally the main­stream of ab­stract paint­ing. What hap­pened in the ’60s is that that sort of cracked open into three threads. One was Min­i­mal­ism, geo­met­ric ab­stract paint­ing. One was Pop Art, and the third was par­tic­i­pa­tory, or per­for­mance art.”

The first of th­ese threads ap­pears to have in­flu­enced many of the artists who showed at Park Place. The artists were in­ter­ested in non­fig­u­ra­tive and geo­met­ric ab­strac­tion, Hard-edge paint­ing, and large-scale works. Much of their art was rooted in con­cepts re­lated to per­cep­tion and spa­tial re­la­tion­ships. The group, as a whole, was in­ter­ested in sci­ence and took a more clin­i­cal, em­pir­i­cal ap­proach to art-mak­ing as op­posed to the spon­tane­ity and ges­tu­ral em­phases of their Ab­stract Ex­pres­sion­ist pre­de­ces­sors. “The thing I think re­ally de­fined Park Place was every­one had this shared in­ter­est in space and ex­plor­ing space in the third or fourth di­men­sion,” said gallery co-di­rec­tor and cu­ra­tor David Eich­holtz. “That’s what co­a­lesced ev­ery­body, in a way. When you look at ev­ery­body’s work from back then, you re­al­ize it wasn’t Op Art, but it was clearly about visual per­cep­tion and clearly cre­at­ing th­ese il­lu­sions in the two-di­men­sional pic­ture plane.”

The Park Place artists man­aged to fund their projects and run the gallery be­cause of a unique propo­si­tion pitched to a hand­ful of col­lec­tors: Fund the gallery for two years in ex­change for works by each of the found­ing artists. The plan worked, but the gallery closed in 1967 af­ter the fund­ing pe­riod ended. Cooper then opened her own space, the Paula Cooper Gallery, which has the dis­tinc­tion of be­ing among SoHo’s first gal­leries and proved sem­i­nal in the de­vel­op­ment of Min­i­mal­ism and con­cep­tual art through the 1970s. Cooper took on many of the artists who pre­vi­ously showed at Park Place.

The artists con­nected with Park Place were in­ter­ested in the the­o­ries of vi­sion­ary in­ven­tor Buck­min­ster Fuller. Dean Flem­ing, who with his for­mer wife Linda co-founded a self-gov­erned artist com­mu­nity called Li­bre in the Colorado Rockies, still lives and works out of a 40-foot ge­o­desic dome in­spired by Fuller’s de­signs. He in­tro­duced Linda to Park Gallery and its ros­ter of artists in 1965; they mar­ried three years later. The gallery is show­ing some of her works on pa­per, as well as

Streak, an ex­am­ple of her lin­ear geo­met­ric sculp­ture. Dean Flem­ing’s 1964 paint­ing Pa­pa­gos, Greece is be­ing shown along with sev­eral paint­ings from through­out his ca­reer. Pa­pa­gos, Greece is a sym­met­ri­cal, mul­ti­col­ored de­sign that shows the in­flu­ence of the elab­o­rate geo­met­ric pat­terns of Moor­ish ar­chi­tec­ture; the title ref­er­ences a jour­ney he took from Morocco to the Greek isle of Les­bos. Ed­win Ruda sim­i­larly worked in Hard-edge paint­ing, mak­ing bold and graphic use of ge­om­e­try in com­po­si­tions that toy with viewer per­cep­tions. Leo Valle­dor also shared their in­ter­est in ge­om­e­try. He came to New York from San Fran­cisco in 1961 along with Flem­ing, a fel­low grad­u­ate of the Cal­i­for­nia School of Fine Arts. In the 1950s, Valle­dor had been in­volved with the in­flu­en­tial San Fran­cisco venue Six Gallery, where Allen Gins­berg first read his fa­mous poem Howl .He was a cham­pion of Hard-edge paint­ing tech­niques and com­bined them with a muted color pal­ette. He was an early pro­po­nent of shaped can­vases, mov­ing the paint­ing sur­face away from a tra­di­tional rec­tan­gu­lar for­mat. Other artists, such as Robert Swain, were also in­ter­ested in geo­met­ric ab­strac­tion. Color is of pri­mary con­cern in the work of Swain, whose prac­tice deals with how psy­che and emo­tion are af­fected by col­ors when they’re ex­pe­ri­enced in pure form, with­out the cul­tural as­so­ci­a­tions we as­cribe to them. He cat­a­logued thou­sands of col­ors in his ca­reer, ar­rang­ing many of them in dif­fer­ent com­bi­na­tions in stud­ies com­posed us­ing grids of shift­ing tones.

Krebs, too, works with gra­da­tions of light and dark hues in spa­tial re­la­tion­ships, of­ten us­ing com­bi­na­tions of rec­tan­gles, squares, and el­lipses me­thod­i­cally plot­ted out in works that bor­der on op­ti­cal il­lu­sion. Her early works from the mid-1960s, such as Pa­pa­dos and Tu­nisia, which are on view, are rem­i­nis­cent of Flem­ing’s work from the same time pe­riod. “I think that many peo­ple in that group were in­ter­ested in this kind of mag­i­cal mo­ment, when you ex­pe­ri­ence the il­lu­sion of space but some­thing im­me­di­ately snaps you back to the flat plane, and there’s kind of a freefall in be­tween those two ex­pe­ri­ences,” she told Eich­holtz dur­ing her talk. Krebs has con­tin­ued ex­plor­ing geo­met­ric ab­strac­tion through­out her ca­reer as a Post­min­i­mal­ist con­cep­tual artist.

While there are as­pects of il­lu­sion in the work of some of the Park Place artists, their in­ter­ests de­vel­oped along a dif­fer­ent tra­jec­tory than those of Op artists, in whose work il­lu­sion is a pri­mary char­ac­ter­is­tic. Among the Park Place artists, color was treated, in a sense, as a medium. “They looked at color al­most as a sculptural prop­erty,” art his­to­rian Peter Frank told Pasatiempo. “Ellsworth Kelly was not a Park Place artist by any means, but he felt the same way — that color should be used to de­fine area, to map out dis­tinct sec­tions, to ar­tic­u­late form. The color re­la­tion­ships were sig­nif­i­cant in the prac­tice of the Park Place artists, but color was defin­ing form and defin­ing or con­tra­dict­ing vol­ume, whereas the Op artists were in­ter­ested in the re­la­tion­ships be­tween col­ors, which of­ten stim­u­lated as­pects of visual per­cep­tion in ways that played with the weak­ness and eas­ily track­able as­pects of the eye.”

Park Place set a prece­dent for artist co­op­er­a­tives, sev­eral of which sprung up around the gallery in its hey­day and im­pacted move­ments that fol­lowed. “Park Place fig­ures as kind of a key lo­cus for the en­ergy and think­ing among artists of the 1960s,” Frank said. “It’s re­lated to the emer­gence of Min­i­mal art and to the co­op­er­a­tive move­ment. Af­ter the ex­plo­sion of hap­pen­ings, en­vi­ron­ment art, and as­sem­blage, which was at the be­gin­ning of the ’60s, this was the next thing.”

Mario Yris­arry: Omega, 1964, acrylic on can­vas; above left, Patsy Krebs: Tu­nisa, 1966, gouache on pa­per

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