Posts Tagged ‘Loft Living’

George Maciunas: The Father of SoHo

December 31, 2016
George Maciunas (photo: fluxus.org)

George Maciunas (photo: fluxus.org)

It is worth noting that, in the past six years that I have been writing about the history of SoHo, I have not included a profile of George Maciunas, often called “the father of SoHo.” Perhaps I felt that, not having known him personally when so many others still in SoHo today had, I was not worthy of the task. Perhaps I felt I could not do such a larger than life figure justice.

In this post, I will attempt to outline Macuinas’ contribution to the development of artists SoHo and loft living, with only glancing references to his contribution to the art world, most notably his role in the Fluxus movement of the late-1960s. For more on this I refer you to the many works that cover this subject, including the excellent Illegal Living by Shael Shapiro and Roslyn Bernstein.

Born in Lithuania, George Maciunas’ family emigrated to the US in 1948. He studied art in New York and Pittsburgh. After a short stint working in Germany, Maciunas established the official Fluxus Headquarters at 359 Canal Street.

The Art Story website describes the Fluxus Movement:

Fluxus was a loosely organized group of artists that spanned the globe, but had an especially strong presence in New York City. George Maciunas is historically considered the primary founder and organizer of the movement, who described Fluxus as, “a fusion of Spike Jones, gags, games, Vaudeville, Cage and Duchamp.” Like the Futurists and Dadaists before them, Fluxus artists did not agree with the authority of museums to determine the value of art, nor did they believe that one must be educated to view and understand a piece of art. Fluxus not only wanted art to be available to the masses, they also wanted everyone to produce art all the time. It is often difficult to define Fluxus, as many Fluxus artists claim that the act of defining the movement is, in fact, too limiting and reductive.

Other leading members brought together by this movement included Ay-O, Joseph Beuys, George Brecht, Dick Higgins, Yoko Ono, Nam June Paik, and Wolf Vostell. (source)

A few years after returning to New York, Maciunas would begin to leave his indelible mark on the neighborhood that is now called SoHo, earning him the title “The Father of SoHo.” It was then that he began purchasing loft buildings from closing manufacturing companies to develop as Fluxhouse Cooperatives, buildings with live-work spaces for artists.

A Fluxhouse Contract

Fluxhouse Contract

In his manifesto titled “A Fluxhouse Plan for an Artist Condominium in New York City” he wrote:

While it has been recognized for some time that New York City is one of the leading art centers of the world, with probably the largest artists population, it is considerably less well known that the city suffers from a severe shortage of economical working space for artists. In part this shortage is due to the moderate means of the average professional artists and the artists’ special space requirements….

But the scarcity of economical working space is part of the general problem arising from urban obsolescence and decay. Large areas of the central city, zoned for commercial and light manufacturing use, were constructed some time ago…

And the process of obsolescence and decay here continue without obstruction. Nevertheless there are many buildings in such areas that are architecturally sound and potentially valuable if considered from the point of view of radically altered use.

(excerpt as quoted in Illegal Living)

Fluxhouse II, the first of many Maciunas Coops at 80 Wooster Street, ca. 1945 (photo: Office for Metropolitan History via The City Review)

Fluxhouse II, the first of many Maciunas Coops at 80 Wooster Street, ca. 1945 (photo: Office for Metropolitan History via The City Review)

With this manifesto, George Maciunas went on to fulfill its mission, albeit in unusual and unconventional ways, by cooping 16 loft buildings over 10 years. Ignoring New York State real estate laws, Maciunas sold loft units to artists in this M1-5 zoning district that allowed for commercial and manufacturing uses but absolutely no residential use. He also failed to file offering plans before offering the units for sale. This led to inquiries by the State Attorney General’s office. Maciunas then began wearing various disguises and went out only at night. He also had his friends send postcards from around the world to make officials think  he was abroad, and he even installed a guillotine blade on his front door to avoid “unwanted visitors.”

During this period, hundreds of artists contacted Maciunas about purchasing lofts, knowing full well that it was illegal and there was a good chance that the would loose any investment made if caught by city officials. No bank was willing to loan money for the illegal Fluxhouses, so artists used their life savings and borrowed from friends to make the down payment. This is how desperate artists were for live-work spaces. Until then, most artists lived in small apartments and rented a separate studio space, which was very expensive and not sustainable in New York. Maciunas offered an alternate possibility where they would be able to stay in New York AND continue to make art.

SS-RB photo


Shael Shapiro, architect and co-author with his wife, Roz Bernstein, of Illegal Living, talk about buying a loft from George Maciunas and doing construction at 80 Wooster Street.

George Maciunas, a consummate control freak by reputation, managed all of the aspects of the cooping process from finding the buildings, to selling the units, to renovating them. He was not, however, doing this for profit, as he always only broke even or even lost part of his investments in these conversions that he offered at impossibly low prices. Maciunas was able to work on a shoestring by sometimes cutting corners, often hiring artists to do much of the contracting work.

Maciunas and Hutching wedding where the bride and groom both wore wedding gowns (Photo : Babette Mangolt)

The Maciunas and Hutching wedding, where the bride and groom both wore wedding gowns (Photo : Babette Mangolt)

In one 1975 instance, where he supposedly shortchanged an electrician for subpar work,  Maciunas was severely beaten and barely escaped with his life. After this, the already sickly Maciunas’ health declined. In 1976, Maciunas left New York to begin creating a Fluxus art center in New Marlborough , MA. In 1978, he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and died in July of that year, shortly after marrying Billie Hutching in a Fluxus wedding in New York City. The wedding, as described in the book Illegal Living, was “the Fluxus event of the era.”

There was a Flux feast of erotic foods, including a penis-shaped pate brought by sculptor Louise Bourgeoise. For the ceremony, Maciunas and Hutching both wore bridal gowns, while their bridesmaids Jon Hendricks and Larry Miller wore dressed in drag and their best man, Allison Knowles, wore tails.

 More details John Lennon and Yoko Ono standing in front of Maciunas' USA Surpasses all the Genocide Records!, c.1970 (photo: Wikipedia)

John Lennon and Yoko Ono standing in front of Maciunas’ USA Surpasses all the Genocide Records!, c.1970 (photo: Wikipedia)

George Maciunas is remembered by SoHo pioneers and aficionados of the Fluxus movement, but unknown to many in the general public, even to resdidents who currently live in SoHo lofts. He is worth remembering, however, not only for the loft coops he created that set the trend of adaptive reuse of buildings worldwide, but also for his idealism, his can-do attitude, and his democratic ideals, qualities that embody the SoHo spirit of the early days. Maciunas lived a multi-faceted and complicated life. Artists SoHo was only one of his many creations of this oft unsung hero, but perhaps the one that will be his most enduring.

Warhol and Maciunas, a film by Jonas Mekas includes footage of Maciunas’ 1971 Dumpling Dinner at 80 Wooster Street and shots of Fluxus happenings on street level.

And The Survey Says,… Part II

June 23, 2015
Crosby lunch

Crosby Lunch, the coffee shop on the corner of Crosby and Prince, where my mom would get me grilled cheese and milkshakes, is one of the places I miss most from my childhood.

A couple of years back, I did a roundup of responses to my SoHo Memory Survey that ended up being one of my most popular posts (see And the survey says, ….).

Today, I am revisiting the survey, as many people have submitted profiles since 2013 (If you have not yet submitted a profile, please go to the “Your SoHo Profile” page and fill out the form). Reading through the responses, I felt myself transported to another time, when things were most certainly quieter, dirtier, colder, friendlier, and more surprising.

Not that there aren’t surprises in the SoHo of today. The ever escalating number of shops that open in SoHo is surprising to me. I thought it would have plateaued years ago. The ever escalating property values in SoHo. I thought that, too, would have leveled off at some point (it has to at some point, doesn’t it?). The fact that Jon Bon Jovi’s loft in the New Museum Building sold for $37.5 million. But I’m not sure that was even surprising, just a stark contrast to the fact that people I know bought their lofts for $5,000, but that was in a different time, though in the same place.

I suppose that’s the takeaway of this post. That we have fond memories, good and bad, of old SoHo, but that is not to say that we are not fond of our present, though perhaps in other ways. The very fact that there are high-end stores and high property values is what has allowed me and my family to continue living in SoHo, through income from commercial tenants and the security of owning property in this highly desirable neighborhood. It’s just that our present is so very different in ways we could not have possibly imagined, back when SoHo was young.

2013_3_2_ 036

The corner of Greene and Prince Streets, ca. 1978, back when the Richard Haas mural was new. Photo: MCNY

What do you miss most about SoHo in the 1970’s?

Everything. It was the real New York. I remember a store called Barone, that was a fabulous make up store. I loved “Let their be Neon” that was great. The lights in some of the steps and the sidewalks. I miss Food, the restaurant. I miss the street cats. I miss the smell of the bakery on Prince Street.

The quiet.

The vibrant arts community. The building of our lofts to make them livable. The help neighbors gave each other in trading construction skills. Building the lofts together. Seeing each other’s art and encouraging each other. Sharing ideas and materials. Knowing everyone when you walked down the street or went to the store for groceries. Having my named called out when I entered Spring Street Bar or Magoo’s or Fanelli’s,

The other artists, the ability to interact and learn from one another, building a community of fellow artists, using our studios to show each other’s work, the peace and quiet to make art and think creatively. I miss the all night diners. I miss gathering at Fanelli’s when Mike was still alive and his sons worked there. I miss the manufacturing community that worked here, though many in sweatshops. Yet it made the neighborhood real.

It was a discovery everyday. Artists. Buildings etc. Today it is too “precious” for my taste but NYC never stays the same and I love that too.

The uniqueness, the awesome shops unlike anything else, the grottiness, that flea market in the empty lot, the shop where they sold only postcards.

The mix of cultures, of working class and middle class, families, and single folks, old and young, and artists, and real life. The streets at night, barren but full of promise and fun. So many characters.

Walking around the neighborhood and running into friends and acquaintances. The community of artists. The quieter streets and fewer stores.

  1. Discarded cardboard rolls from textile mills, which were good for sword fights and construction projects.
  2. AYH bike joint on Spring St.
  3. Walking thru galleries with my parents on Saturday morning and seeing all their unusual friends (men who kissed men! People who painted pictures as a job! Poets whose poetry never rhymed! Who were these people!??)
  4. Expedi Printing and Sam Chen (maybe was 80s?)

The entire neighborhood.

I still love the old buildings, the urban landscape. I’m sad it’s so commercialized. I loved the remoteness, the outlaw feeling. I remember going home from the bar at night, walking down the empty center of the street instead of the sidewalk, because it was safer.

The feeling that I wasn’t in Kansas anymore.

Mercer Street at Prince Street, Onetime Guggenheim SoHo, now Prada SoHo. Photo: MCNY, Edmund V. Gillon

Mercer Street at Prince Street, Onetime Guggenheim SoHo, now Prada SoHo. Photo: MCNY, Edmund V. Gillon

(more…)

The SoHo Historical Society?

April 2, 2015
Loft For Sale - Copy for an advertisement, date unknown.  Sounds like a nice place.  And I think it was on West Broadway!

Loft For Sale – Copy for an advertisement, date unknown. Sounds like a nice place. And I think it was on West Broadway!

Ever wonder why SoHo doesn’t have a historical society or neighborhood association? I am forever grateful that we have the SoHo Alliance and SoHo Partnership. But I mean more like a place that preserves the cultural history of SoHo, what real loft living was like, what it was like to grow up in a loft not knowing that other children had doormen and elevators and carpeting, what it was like to raise a family while living illegally. Stuff like that.

Mike, Jane's husband, inspecting the installation of the first wall in the loft. (image: Cass Collins)

image: Cass Collins

Well, I have. I obviously think it’s an interesting story— I’ve been writing about it for the past 4+ years. And this blog will probably be around for years to come, even if I stop writing it today. But I think we need something more. Although there are archives throughout the world that collect the personal papers of significant artists and individuals who were SoHo pioneers, SoHo itself has no physical space dedicated to preserving its history as a neighborhood, nor is there any library or museum that tells its story. (more…)

Girls and Boys on Film

February 28, 2015

1971-05-Lembeck-Crista-01-loI just looked over my past few posts, and boy oh boy are they serious!  So I thought today we could do something fun.  I’ve uploaded a bunch of photos of SoHo kids (and some grownups) and I thought you all could write in either:

1) identifying the people and/or  location in the photo

2) sharing what memories the photo evokes about old SoHo

These are photos that readers have sent in over the years, and they are not in any special order.  Please leave comments via the comments window at the bottom of this post, and don’t forget to include the photo number so that we know which photo you are describing.

Looking forward to hearing from you!

PS Please feel free to send me more snapshots at sohomemory@gmail.com and I will post them here! (more…)

Archivism as Activism: The Preservation of SoHo

August 1, 2014
 SoHo Newsletter

SoHo Newsletter

Keeping Watch, last month’s post on The SoHo Alliance and their mission to maintain, in the words of director Sean Sweeney, “controlled and appropriate development – a balance between residential and retail, seeking a quality-of-life that benefits everyone who visits, lives or works in SoHo” was inspired by another, equally laudable organization, The Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation (GVSHP), that is, according to its mission statement, “a leader in protecting the sense of place and human scale that define the Village’s unique community.”  In fact, GVSHP advocates on behalf of not only Greenwich Village proper, but the East Village and NoHo as well.  The work of these two organizations thus helps ensure that our historic roots are preserved and that the residents of these communities are protected.

The Village Voice - April 9, 1964 issue about artists rallying for loft rights, back when you had to pay (10 cents!) for the paper.

The Village Voice – April 9, 1964 issue about artists rallying for loft rights, back when you had to pay (10 cents!) for the paper.

This past June I attended an event hosted by GVSHP, where host and long-time Village resident Calvin Trillin presented its annual Village Awards to local individuals and businesses that had contributed in some way to the preservation of Greenwich Village and its environs.  Among the award recipients were LaMaMa in the East Village, Unopressive Non-Imperialist Bargain Books on Carmine Street, and Kathy Donaldson, an activist who has spent the last forty years working to preserve the heritage of her neighborhood.  Board members also reviewed GVSHP’s work during 2013-2014 to protect architectural heritage and cultural history.

I found this event inspiring for a number of reasons.  I was impressed by the awardees’ passionate dedication to the GVSHP’s mission and with the breadth and depth of GVSHP’s reach in its communities.  But most of all, I was inspired to find a way that I could do something to help preserve the architectural heritage and cultural history of SoHo. (more…)

Golden Years

December 14, 2013
Over the years, I’ve gotten to know quite a few SoHo old-timers through this blog.  People write in, share their memories with me, and I include these memories in my posts.  I recently heard from Peter Reginato, an olde tyme SoHo artist who actually still lives here.  He writes so eloquently about how he got to SoHo, and how it’s changed over the years.  Here is his post—a reminiscence from someone who was here in the beginning and still remains (for now, at least), a very rare breed, indeed!
Articl about Peter in Vogue, 1966

Article about Peter in Vogue, 1966

FIRST PERSON: Peter Reginato

I was going to the San Francisco Art Institute in 1963 and was planning to move to Paris…but I started thinking about either New York or Los Angeles after I had met the painter Ronnie Landfield who was from New York and through conversations about what was happening in the New York scene, I realized that Paris was over.  A teacher of mine said you pretty much had to teach to make any money in Los Angeles.  There were about five collectors in San Francisco and after they bought a piece that was it for sales.  It was a very different art world then, still very local.

What really got me here was I met a California artist I knew of only from his work when I was still in high school in Oakland named Carlos Villa.  Carlos was living in NYC at the time, but had come back to San Francisco for the spring and summer of 1966.  We got to be friends and he said to me:  Why are you in San Francisco? Come to New York and you can stay with me for two weeks and you will find a place.

Around this same time I met the sculptor Frosty Myers, who also told me to come to NYC and that he’d put me in a Park Place Gallery show.  At the time, in 1966, I was making my version of minimalism—very high finished boxes and pyramids using day-glo paints.  I’d played around with moving to Los Angles, but I felt New York was similar to San Francisco in its “look,” plus I thought I’d never get a job teaching in L.A.  I didn’t know at the time that you were hired more on your “track record” that academics.  So I moved here packing my truck with my sculptures and paintings and found a place right away on Greene Street, where I’ve lived since September 1966. (more…)

Patience and Fortitude (and Resilience and Attitude )

November 2, 2013

I was looking through old issues of The SoHo Weekly News recently and came across a column by Jim Stratton that I thought beautifully summed up what it took to be a loft owner in SoHo in 1975.

SWN head

Keeping Aloft

By Jim Stratton

Right now it is covered with packing cases or sewing machines or rag bales, but it has real potential.  You think the floors are good—at least if you scratch through the century of grunge you find a layer of what appears to be wood underneath.  And the enthusiastic person with the list particulars says it will all be easy.  Sign here, and leave your cash with the lawyer.

Learning the difference between real potential and realty reality is a long, slow process.  Renovating a squat warehouse into a liveable cooperative is a grand adventure which can be every bit as exciting as Mission Impossible…if you are ready for it.  Being ready means that the adventurer must be prepared to watch all those dreams self-destruct at any moment, and be set to resurrect them again from the ashes.

Nearly every cooperative of my acquaintance has had some gantlet to run on its way to stability.  In one, a fire (uninsured) destroyed the plumbing before anyone got to flush.  In another, a recalcitrant and not too-cooperative cooperator keeps taking the builder to court.  A third felt the wrath of a former tenant in the building and faced legions of inspectors…building, plumbing, electrical, elevator, fire, even the Board of Health sent their finest.  There is no way to gauge in advance the nature of the calamity that will befall, but setting your mind to expect it and meet it is an unadvertised but necessary part of your commitment if you get into a co-op.

Renovations at 498 Broome Street, ca. 1963

Renovations at 498 Broome Street, ca. 1963 (photo: Dorothy Koppelman)

Different buildings have met different challenges according to their own strategies.  Six years ago, my own homestead was rankled by a difficult situation: the rag merchants who had sold us the building refused to move out.  A codicil on our purchase contract generously gave them “reasonable” time to evacuate their bales, but because they were teetering on the brink of bankruptcy they couldn’t find space anywhere that suited their pocketbooks.  So they stayed on…and on…and on.

Rolling 500-pound ragbales around soon became tedious.  Erecting walls between the bundles quickly paled as an art form.  Something had to be done.

What was done was sandblasting.  We hired a crew and they started on the top floor.  As the fallout began sifting through ancient floorboards into the folds of the rags, those bales magically found new places to go.  Fifth floor, fourth floor, and right out the door ahead of a jet stream, of sand.

The remedy suited the problem and it worked.  If it had not, I have no doubt that I would still be climbing over a batch of orlon to make coffee.

PIONEERING IN THE URBAN WILDERNESS a book about loft living by Jim Stratton

PIONEERING IN THE URBAN WILDERNESS a book about loft living by Jim Stratton

Nearly all cooperative disasters can be reduced to one absolute.  Money.  Replacing a plumbing stack takes money, going to court takes money, meeting sometimes-obsolete city requirements takes money.  My own corollary to Parkinson’s Law is the cost of renovation expands to spend all money available, whether it is earmarked for renovation or not.

This appears to be true whatever the level of the original bank account.  In one co-op where the owners bought their floors for $3,000 apiece and no one in the building had much more than the down payment, work is progressing in spite of poverty.  The co-opers are all just barely scraping by.  In another, where raw space was $25,000 and the purchasers thought they were easily able to afford it, one add-on cost after another sapped their individual bank balances to a uniform cipher.  They too are just scraping by…though admittedly in fancier style.

Adversity, like it or not, is usually a part of the cooperative adventure.  It can be expected, welcomed and even relished if you set your mind to it.  Setbacks are frequent and pain is a certainty.  Auden might have been renovating a loft when he wrote:

They will come all right, don’t worry; probably in a form
That we do not expect, and certainly with a force
More dreadful than we can imagine.  In the meantime
There are bills to be paid, machines to keep in repair,
Irregular verbs to learn, the Time Being to redeem
From insignificance.

Building together, living together, learning together can broaden you and make you grow.  Or it can depress you and make you sour.  The difference is your own resilience and attitude.  If you look forward to fashionable convenience, you’re likely to find it somewhere else.

There can be beauty in a leaky roof and a bruised thumb, but unless it is in the eye of the beholder, the beholder shouldn’t renovate a loft.

This column appeared Thursday, January 9, 1975, in The SoHo Weekly News.  Click on image to enlarge:

stratton Keeping Aloft

jim-pic002Jim Stratton — raised in Chagrin Falls, Ohio, graduated Oberlin College, spent the next half-century living in New York City. Wife: actor/writer/photographer Cass Collins, with four children: Jeff (structural engineer), Jeremy (jazz bassist), Conor (filmmaker), and Callison (singer-songwriter).

An on-camera news reporter (United Press Newsfilm, UPITN) for a dozen years, spent two Army years in New Orleans where he joined in opening the still-wonderful Maple Leaf bar while writing, in New York City, the column “Keeping Aloft” in the now-iconic SoHo Weekly News. Former co-owner of Puffy’s Tavern and continuing co-owner and General Manager of Grassroots Tavern, he also writes a column, “The City Charrette,” for the Tribeca Trib. A founder of the Downtown Independent Democrats, Lower Manhattan’s political reform club,  he was for 18 years a Democratic District Leader and member of the Democratic New York County Executive Committee. A former chair of Community Board #1 in Lower Manhattan and past president of the SoHo Alliance and P.S. 234 Parents Association. Author of the 1977 book “Pioneering in the Urban Wilderness,” a historical, personal, and informational tour de force on the artist-loft movement of which he was a part.

And he did all this without much intending to.

Let’s Do the Time Warp Again

June 15, 2013

SoHo Life May 2013 CoverI feel like I’m kind of cheating all you SoHo residents, as you probably saw this already (or maybe you threw it out with your junk mail?), but in lieu of a REAL post, this week I am posting my cover article for the May 2013 issue of SoHo Life (a magazine mailed only to local residents) about the re-opening of 101 Spring Street.  Judd Foundation has meticulously restored Donald Judd’s home and studio on Spring and Mercer and began taking reservations for tours this month.  They’ve done an amazing job and have created a time capsule of old SoHo in the process. It’s definitely worth a visit if you are in the area, but call ahead, as appointments are required for entry.  I was lucky enough to get a sneak peak, and it really took me back! (more…)

SoHo State of Mind

May 18, 2013
The opening reception for the SoHo Memory Project exhibition.

At the opening reception for the SoHo Memory Project exhibition.

This is week three of my SoHo exhibition.  I think it has been rather successful thus far.  Not in the sense that it has drawn large crowds from far and wide, but it has shed a (dappled) light on the mysterious ways of my ex-expat parents in the eyes of locals.  My parents spent more than half of their lives in New York.  How could they not have brought it back to Okazaki with them?

First of all, everyone now sees that what they thought was my parents’ unusual and excessively large live/work space, is de rigeur in SoHo.  Japanese homes are small, cramped abodes with small cramped rooms that at first glance appear more spacious than they really are because everything, from the sofa to the plates to the people themselves are a few degrees smaller than in the US, thus everything is to scale, as if the whole environment were thrown in a dryer set on high.  But then you realize that the overflowing plate of food offered at dinnertime is in fact a Lilliputian feast and that you are starving as soon as you’ve finished your mini-meal.  Yes, even the pieces of sushi are smaller here.

In contrast, my parents have recently super-sized their living quarters.  While they were camping out in the back of the Blue Box Gallery, they decided to build a house on the lot next door that was being used for parking.  Again, instead of building a house like all the others in the neighborhood, my father designed a three-story “loft building” where he could have an entire floor as a studio and then a spacious living space above.  The ground floor, still vacant, is a commercial space that can be used for art or dance classes or as an exhibition space, TBD.  The building has exposed cement walls, wood floors, and high ceilings, a la SoHo 1975, but also includes all of the modern conveniences of Japan 2013, such as a bathtub with a digital control panel where you can set and maintain the temperature of the bath, shower, and air, all separately, and a pleasing tune plays throughout the apartment as a soothing woman’s voice announces that your bath is ready and is at your desired settings.

The control panel of my parents' bathtub

The control panel of my parents’ bathtub

Then there’s the more intangible SoHo ethos that emanates from The Blue Box.  Japan is not a country that generally celebrates difference.  People seem to work hard to blend in, to toe the party line in terms of behavior, dress, even how they pass their leisure time.  This is kind of a bummer for any arty eccentric types.  They must remain closeted or else risk ridicule.  Not anymore!  The Blue Box is a haven for the square pegs of Okazaki.  They come to hang out and chat and let it all hang out.  My father has a motley posse of “misfits,” who in New York would just blend in, but then, who doesn’t blend in in New York, save for a group of Japanese tourists?

I asked visitors to the gallery to share their impressions of the exhibition.  People mostly said what you would expect, “I never knew that SoHo had such a rich history,” and “I would like to visit SoHo now that I know something about it.”  One visitor wrote me a note reflecting on my childhood that said, “To bring a well-balanced, well-rounded child into the world is quite difficult.  It takes a broad-minded community, home, and family working together to achieve this.  You are very lucky to have had such a life!”  Lucky, indeed.  I will keep this in mind while raising my daughter, also a child of SoHo, with the hope that when people see her exhibition about the SoHo of her childhood, they will know that she, too, was a lucky kid.

Thinking Inside the (Blue) Box

May 4, 2013
Facade of the Blue Box Gallery in Okazaki, Japan

Facade of the Blue Box Gallery in Okazaki, Japan

Greetings from Okazaki, Japan, hometown of my mom and dad who lived in SoHo for 45 years before moving back here just this year.  Taking their wealth of experience as artists and then gallery owners in New York, they have opened a gallery here in an old warehouse that used to house, of all things, a fabric recycling storage space.  Yes, the rag trade, so prevalent in SoHo when my parents arrived in 1968, followed them all the way back to Okazaki.  How could they NOT open a gallery in this space?

While visiting his childhood home about ten years ago, my father came upon an abandoned warehouse.  He inquired about the 2,500-square-foot space and quickly secured a ten-year lease at the equivalent of $850 per month.  The landlord was probably thinking, who in their right mind would want such a space now that fabric recycling has been moved offshore?  My father painted the exterior a happy shade of blue and aptly named the building “The Blue Box.”  He then slowly, using his carpentry skills that put me thought college, built a live-work space comprised of studio space, a large exhibition space, and a kitchen and loftbed in the back.  Sound familiar?  You really can’t teach an old do new tricks.

The gallery is quite vast, with two large rooms and another small room in the back.  It is in this cozy third space that I have put together an exhibition about the history of SoHo, an analog SoHo Memory Project, so to speak.  I thought the residents of this sleepy city (think outskirts of Hartford) might be interested in knowing a little about the place my parents disappeared to for so long.  Most of the people who will visit this exhibition will not have ever been to New York, and will not have heard of SoHo.  How does one convey SoHo’s rich history and culture to someone whose frame of reference is, at best, the film After Hours dubbed into Japanese?

The following is a video sneak peak of the exhibition.  Please excuse the shaky video and improvised narration.  Tune in next time for a post-vernissage debriefing!


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