Mary-Ann Monforton in front of her Keith Haring painting at her home office, 1985.
A collection of art ephemera can be surprisingly personal. Announcement cards, posters and publications saved over time are a record of a person’s art-world experiences. They are linked to one’s own art activities, the activities of friends, and a record of memorable shows and artists the collector admires.
Mary-Ann Monforton arrived in New York in 1974 settling into the East Village when it was still in the depths of decay. It did not take long for her to become part of the lively downtown art world with its parties, clubs and openings. There were a variety of short-lived jobs before Monforton found her calling as a fundraiser for non-profit organizations, and as organizer of benefit art auctions. Much of Monforton’s career was with BOMB Magazine where she quickly rose to associate publisher in charge of fundraising events.
Having lived so close to the heart of the art world, it is not surprising that Monforton accumulated a lot of art ephemera. Happily for Gallery 98, she was willing to part with much of it when earlier this year she relocated back to her hometown Detroit.
Tina L’hotsky’s picture book, Crazy Spanish Girls, was the basis for “Cha-Cha Party” at the Mudd Club, her first venture into organizing nightclub parties, and one of the first theme nights that dominated 80s nightlife.
Soon after arriving in the city, Monforton met another new arrival, Tina L’hotsky, an actress, writer and filmmaker who soon found her place in the art scene as an author and curator of nightclub parties. Monforton’s collection of ephemera fully documents her best friend’s activities during the years she became famous as the Queen of the Mudd Club, published books, and participated in independent films.
At a time when the downtown art scene was still a small community, Monforton found her way to the Fun Gallery for Kenny Scharf’s first show in 1981. The prices were low and Monforton impulsively bought a painting. It was Scharf’s first gallery sale and Monforton’s very first art purchase. Monforton collected other works by Scharf, all the while accumulating a large collection of announcement cards, posters and other Scharf ephemera.
El Bohio was a Puerto Rican Community and Cultural Center ready to collaborate with the many young artists moving into the East Village at a time when it was still largely a Hispanic neighborhood. Monforton was El Bohio’s Director of Funding and the organizer of successful benefit auctions that included many future art stars. It was Monforton’s first benefit art auction and sparked her long career in art-world fund raising.
Keith Haring’s death from AIDS was a major loss felt by all but especially those who knew him in life like Monforton, who met him through Scharf, collected Haring’s works and regularly tapped his generosity in contributions to benefit art auctions. Haring’s death was not unexpected, and all the New York newspapers were prepared with obituaries that appeared the very next day.
Tea Party at the Algonquin with Betty Woodman, Miriam Schapiro, Jane Dickson, Joan Snyder, Joyce Kozloff, Lorna Simpson, Mierle Ukeles, May Stevens, Judy Rifka, Louise Bourgeois, Judy Pfaff, April Gornik, Mary Beth Edelson, and others. Photo by James Hamilton, 1991.
Mary-Ann Monforton was the person behind this iconic group portrait of leading women artists gathering for tea at the Algonquin Hotel. The photograph by James Hamilton promoted Show of Strength, a benefit exhibition that Monforton organized for MADRE, a group working with women to address humanitarian needs around the world. Gallery 98 has copies of both the Show of Strength poster and the original benefit catalogue.
BOMB Magazine was launched in 1981 as part of a wave of downtown publications covering the art scene. It was a rare survivor, still active today under the care of its original editor Betsy Sussler. Monforton was recruited by Sussler for fund-raising events and for selling ads. The benefit auction Sitting Pretty had an unusual angle. People bid to have their portraits rendered by leading artists like Nan Goldin, George Condo, David Salle, Tina Barney and others.