Gallery shows

Artists’ spaces: The Painting Center

Carl Plansky, Catskill Forest Edge, oil on linen, 52 x72 inches

Contributed by Sharon Butler / I was on Facebook the other day and noticed Dana Gordon�s post about the history of The Painting Center. Back in the 1990s, when NYC galleries were centered in Soho, curators were more interested in video, installation, conceptual, and performance projects than they were in painting exhibitions. After a brief post-minimalism resurgence in painting in the 1980s (Susan Rothenberg, Moira Dryer, Jennifer Bartlett, Elizabeth Murray, Jake Berthot, Gregory Amenoff, Donald Sultan, Julian Schnabel, David Salle, Eric Fischl , et al.), painters were suddenly left with precious few places in which to show. Gordon, Louisa Waber, Marilyn Giersbach, and David Fratkin used to gather at Carl Plansky�s paint shop on Elizabeth Street and commiserate about the situation. Eventually they decided to do something about it.

Barbara Marks, Recollection No. 128 (Stony Creek), 2018; acryla gouache, flashe, and graphite on gessoed panel; 12 x 12 inches. On view in the 25th Anniversary Exhibition.
Dana Gordon, #4, 2017-18, 48 x 36 inches. Note: Gordon is having a retrospective at the Westbeth in March.

In February 1993, before Soho became the outpost for international tourists and big commercial brands that it is today, Waber saw a second-floor space for rent on Greene Street. The rent was reasonable, and a group of painters decided to start a gallery dedicated exclusively to painting. Gordon came up with a name, designed a logo, and put a sign out front. Artists Mark LaRiviere, Jenny Lynn McNutt, Lisa Lawley, Charlie Hewitt, Andy Watel, Riley Brewster, and Tony Martin were also among the founding members. The inaugural exhibition featured forty-nine artists, including Jake Berthot, Louise Fishman, Bill Jensen, and Milton Resnick. Over the years, the roster of members evolved, and Plansky, who passed away in 2009, eventually went on to found Williamsburg Handmade Oils.

Rachael Wren, March, 2018, oil on linen, 20 x 20 inches. On view in the 25th Anniversary Exhibition.

Now it�s the norm for artists, especially recent MFA grads, to open spaces and curate shows, but in the 1990s, most painters were loath to engage in exhibitions that lacked validation from a respected commercial gallery or a pedigreed non-profit organization. The prevailing understanding, ingrained in them by the old-timers at art school, was that they had to toil in their studios and wait their turn. To their credit, some � the artists who founded The Painting Center; Williamsburg entrepreneurs like Joe Amrhein, who started Pierogi2000; and those who launched the Four Walls project, including Adam Simon, Michele Araujo, and later Mike Ballou � didn�t care about the gatekeepers.

Perhaps improbably, these noble efforts proved auspicious. Many of the painters in Williamsburg in the 1990s who couldn�t get shows in the mainstream galleries — Chris Martin, Kathrine BradfordJoe Fyfe, and others — have become art-famous in the more painting-friendly art world of the last decade. This year, The Painting Center, located in Chelsea since 2010, celebrates its 25th anniversary. This past month Director Shazzi Thomas mounted a sprawling group show that featured some of the founding members and a slew of other artists who have been a part of its durable community over the years. This week three solo shows are opening: Tony Moore, Carol Diamond, and Xico Greenwald.

Related posts:
The materiality of written language: Joe Fyfe
Joe Amrhein still in Florida
Katherine Bradford: Deep image painting
Lovable: Chris Martin at Anton Kern




  1. Thanks for this history! I had no idea but have enjoyed bite-size versions of many of the exhibits I�ve seen (via web) hosted there; in concept and in the inclusions.

  2. Readers may also be interested to Google “10 Downtown” an annual group of 10 separate solo exhibitions by ten NYC artists in Soho, Chelsea, Tribeca curated and selected by the preceding year’s group. Beginning in the early 1960s, the event ran its course into the mid 1980s and included many artists–primarily painters– recognizable today such as Jennifer Cecere (current “Pattern, Decoration, and Crime”, MAMCO, Geneva, Switzerland) and Jackie Battenfield ( author of “The Artist’s Guide: How to Make a Living Doing What You Love”
    Da Capo Press, 2009). For many–including me–it was our first NYC solo exhibition.

  3. In 1990 I started B4A gallery at 510 Broadway as an exhibition space to invite artists to curate shows. In my view artists are the first curators, as was demonstrated in the first decades of the 20th century when artists groups like Der Blaue Reiter, the Futurist, and De Stijl all curated shows based on their paintings. In the early 90s very few artists thought about curating shows,as they saw themselves subject to the development model of commercial galleries.

    There was an economic down-turn in the early 90s when gallery art sales plummeted.
    Galleries closed every month, so opportunities opened for new spaces. The Painting Center grew out of this need for new spaces and activist artists to step into the gap and offer an artist-led alternative space.

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