The downtown art world of the 1970s and ’80s was mostly separate from the established uptown galleries where works sold for high prices to the art elite. Downtown was a low-budget affair, a place where artists exhibited in shabby do-it-yourself spaces that catered mostly to other young and broke artists. It was a milieu that encouraged new forms of populist art; inexpensive multiples that anyone could appreciate and afford. Examples of this type of art could be seen at Stefan Eins’ 3 Mercer Street Store (1972-79), later at his Fashion Moda space (1978-93), and at the pop-up A More Stores (1980-84) sponsored by the artist group COLAB.
In 1982 the idea of the artist’s store infiltrated the mainstream art world when the organizers of documenta 7, the prestigious contemporary art exhibition that took place every five years in Kassel, Germany, asked Eins and Jenny Holzer to create a Fashion Moda Store. This breakthrough event was the subject of a 2012 exhibition at the Neuberger Museum. There were low-priced sculpture multiples by Becky Howland, Tom Otterness, Kiki Smith and others. But by far the most popular items were the artist-made t-shirts, fabricated in Germany specifically for the store. Keith Haring made his very first “crawling baby” t-shirt for the store. Jenny Holzer’s t-shirt featured the phrase “Abuse of power comes as no surprise” from her “Truisms.”
Today we can admire these t-shirts as early examples of a new type of art object that has continued to flourish. Undervalued at the time (and still undervalued today) these wearable works of art from 1982 are now exceedingly rare. Gallery 98 has two designs available: Stefan Eins’ red t-shirt features his now classic Fashion Moda logo written in Chinese, English, Russian and Spanish; and Christy Rupp’s t-shirt features her signature rat. Both have printed on the sleeve the credits “Moda Fashion Store, documenta 7, owners Jenny Holzer/Stefan Eins.”