“The show tries to capture what it was like to look at art in the 1950s and ’60s, and I do it by removing the art-historical frame, the formal lineage that you’re used to—
. If you take that away and you [frame it with] the artist-run spaces instead you start to see how a variety of visual strategies coexisted,” Rachleff explains. “You can look at this moment far more broadly, in terms of the aesthetics that the artists established—not art historians, not critics—and so you’re seeing it on the artists’ terms. It’s really what downtown looked like, when you re-include women and non-white artists,” she says. “We also take seriously the artists who were working in a way that is more social-political,” she adds, in reference to the post-World War II, Cold War climate of the time.
Although it’s a selection drawn from some 20 to 30 artist-run spaces that ran downtown during this time, Rachleff presents a more complete picture of the area during this period, which is often solely remembered by the 10th Street co-op galleries. Those galleries are nonetheless given their due attention, and it’s the opening of the first two prominent galleries of this type, Tanager Gallery and Hansa Gallery, that led Rachleff to begin the time period the show covers with 1952.
In addition, Rachleff gives a view into how artists outside of the exclusive circles of dominant uptown dealers like Leo Castelli, Sidney Janis, and Julien Levy were staying afloat, forging their own platforms and paths in order to create new work and share it with the public. The show ends in 1965, at which point Pop art dominated the New York art market and distinctions between downtown and uptown attitudes and approaches to art were solidified.