Artistic failure in America
, here’s another story of what happens when an artist is exiled by the community or neighborhood he helps (re-)build into a vibrant and hip art district. This time the artist, Dean Fleming, became “exiled” by choice.
Scene: It was the heady 1960s; for the past decade-plus, America’s comfortable and prosperous middle class had been fleeing the country’s cities for the newly built suburbs, leaving huge openings in various city districts for all sorts of opportunistic elements to move in. Such a district in New York City, in 1962 sometimes called “Hells Hundred Acres,” was described by Richard Kostelanetz in his book on SoHo
“The area below Houston Street [in New York City] was an industrial slum that I might have walked through reluctantly on the way from Greenwich Village to its north or Chinatown to its east. Industrial debris littered streets that were clogged with trucks and truckers during the working daytimes but deserted at night… I first became aware of someone actually residing in the nineteenth-century industrial slum in 1965 when I was introduced on Canal Street to a Korean artist [Nam June Paik] who had just arrived in America and rented a nearby ‘loft,’ which was a word new to me at the time… I later learned of such urban pioneers as Alison Knowles, who, in the late 1950s, had rented space in an industrial building on Broadway just north of Canal Street, where she lived with her husband-to-be, Dick Higgins… By the time I relocated downtown, first to the East Village in 1966, I became aware of artists who had rented large open space in which they worked and, incidentally, lived… [the author mentions Yoko Ono, Robert Rauschenberg, the writer Donald Barthelme, Chuck Close, and many others in the text that follows].”
Dean Fleming, a California native, came of age as an artist in New York in the 1960s. A contemporary and friend of sculptor Mark di Suvero
, Fleming worked initially in a catchy, trendy (but not earth-shatteringly original) minimalist-geometric style, and he had a few years of success in the gallery scene of the time. Fleming also was, along with di Suvero, a co-founder, in 1963, of the Park Place Gallery
in SoHo, which is often called the first cooperative gallery in the district. Kostelanetz doesn’t seem to make mention of the space, but Wikipedia explains, “the gallery showcased works by younger, less established artists with an emphasis on Geometric abstraction, shaped canvas, Hard-edge painting, Op Art, paradoxical geometric objects, and experimental art. Many of the sculptors, painters and other artists who exhibited in Park Place Gallery were interested in cutting edge architecture, electronic music, and minimal art.”