The 10th Street Galleries
Summary of The 10th Street Galleries
The 10th Street Galleries were a cooperative set of artist-run art galleries that began opening in the early 1950s in New York City. While more established galleries like the Janis, Castelli, Levy and others were all operated by wealthy art dealers and mostly located along Manhattan's opulent 57th Street, the 10th Street Galleries were simple, small, un-staffed, and relatively modest. Many established artists of the era, like de Kooning and Kline, had studios in downtown Manhattan, and their very presence attracted younger artists to the area where studio and gallery space was cheap and plentiful. Until the galleries' arrival, the small block on 10th Street between 3rd and 4th Avenues was populated by pawn shops, poolrooms and sheet-metal shops.
In the autumn of 1952, the first two of what would be several co-op art galleries opened in downtown Manhattan; the Tanager on 90 East 10th Street, located next door to the home of Willem de Kooning, who had recently taken an apartment on 10th Street, and the Hansa on 70 East 12th Street.
The founders and original artist-members of these galleries were relatively unknown (and to this day it is difficult to identify each individual associated with these initial galleries), and they were not necessarily Abstract Expressionists. Membership at the Tanager included American Realists Alex Katz and Philip Pearlstein, and the Pop art/found-art collagist Tom Wesselmann. Among Hansa's members were Color Field painter Wolf Kahn, collagist and performance artist Alan Kaprow, and Pop artist George Segal. Critic/historian Meyer Schapiro was a regular visitor to the gallery.
The opening of these galleries were momentous occasions for the downtown arts scene in New York. Before this time, the artists of the New York School created art, attended lectures, and socialized in and around 10th Street (at the Cedar Tavern, the Artists' Club, The New School, etc.), but to show their work they tended to find representation with uptown gallery owners and/or art dealers on 57th Street or Madison Ave.
The Tanager and Hansa galleries offered open spaces for young artists not only to show their work, but also provided a location for young newcomers to represent themselves and to sell art on their own terms, unconstrained by the dealers and uptown gallery owners.
The Galleries attract Prominent Names
The James Gallery opened in the fall of 1954 on 70 East 12th Street, in a space previously occupied by the Hansa Gallery. Immediately preceding the James opening, the Hansa relocated its space to 210 Central Park South, marking the first departure of a 10th Street gallery from downtown to uptown Manhattan. Some notable members of the James were the photographer Phillip Harrington and the portrait artist Margaret Bartlett.
By the mid-1950s, the first generation of Abstract Expressionists was well established in the New York art world. Some members had become extremely wealthy from their work and were given frequent solo shows at the uptown galleries, and some had even passed away. The second generation of AbEx artists emerged, and the 10th Street galleries were the ideal place for them to show their work, aided by those such as de Kooning and Rosenberg - both of whom lived on 10th Street - who were frequent visitors and promoters.
The Tanager was unquestionably the premier gallery of the 10th Street co-ops. Not long after opening, it counted among its membership Willem de Kooning, Rudy Burkhardt, Al Held and Philip Guston.
The Camino, March, and Elaine de Kooning
In the fall of 1956 the Camino Gallery opened its doors on 92 East 10th Street (a building that has since been torn down), with a membership of over two dozen artists, including John Krushenick (a former student of Hans Hofmann's and a co-founder of the soon-to-open Brata Gallery), his brother and fellow artist Nicholas, and Elaine de Kooning. The following March, a new gallery opened across the street from the Camino, dubbed the March Gallery, on 95 East 10th Street.
Elaine de Kooning, best known during the 1950s and early 60s for her abstracted portraits, was the ideal ambassador for some of the smaller downtown galleries with little to no public exposure. As a woman artist in the male-dominated New York School, most high-profile gallery owners and dealers were not clamoring to exhibit and sell her work, but her paintings were so widely admired and celebrated that having her name attached to a gallery did boost its profile.