FOUR GROUNDBREAKING GALLERIES OF THE 1980s Fun Gallery – Semaphore – 303 – International With Monument
Opening an art gallery in the 1980s was easy. Rents were low and there was no shortage of talented artists looking for places to show. In hindsight, it’s surprising to see how many now historic exhibitions were held in small, raw spaces run by neophyte dealers on a shoestring budget. The art world was ready for new things. All it took was ambition and a sure eye.
Gallery 98 spotlights four 1980s galleries with exceptional exhibition records. Of the four, 303 Gallery, which recently celebrated its 35th anniversary, is the only one to have survived the decade. The history of these groundbreaking galleries can be tracked through the art ephemera they produced for each of their exhibitions
Fun Gallery, Lee Quinones, Color Xerox, 1982. Photo by Martha Cooper. Size: 10.75 x 8.5 inches.
The Fun Gallery, started in 1981 by Patti Astor and Bill Stelling, led the way in the rise of the East Village as an art-gallery neighborhood. The gallery was unique because of its roster of artists that Astor met when she acted in the hip-hop film Wildstyle. At a time when graffiti-based art was not yet taken seriously, the Fun Gallery showed Lee, Futura, Dondi, Fred Brathwaite, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring, insisting that each stood on his own as an individual artist.
Semaphore East, Lady Pink, Card, 1986. Size: 5.5 x 8 inches
When Barry Blinderman opened Semaphore in Soho in 1980 the art world was still dominated by a few big galleries with established artists. During a seven year run, Semaphore, and its East Village satellite Semaphore East (1984), proved the viability of its group of mostly young, untested artists by holding exhibitions of the work of Martin Wong, Lady Pink, Robert Colescott, Duncan Hannah, Mark Kostabi, Jane Dickson and many others.
303 Gallery, Richard Prince & David Robbins, Card, 1985. Size: 3 x 6 inches
303 was named after its address on Park Avenue South, where rents were still cheap in 1984, and owner Lisa Spellman was able for a time to live in the back of the gallery. Artists like Richard Prince, Christopher Wool, and Robert Gober showed at the gallery before moving on to more prestigious venues. But unlike the other galleries included here, 303 survived, no doubt due to Spellman’s ongoing skill at discovering new talent like Sue Williams and Doug Aitken, who all joined 303 in the 90s.
International With Monument
International With Monument, Jeff Koons, Card, 1985. Size: 4 x 5.5 inches
When International With Monument opened in the East Village in 1984 its clean neo-conceptual aesthetic stood in stark contrast to the painterly expressionism on display in most of the other galleries in the neighborhood. Founders Kent Klamen, Meyer Vaisman, and Elizabeth Koury quickly attracted the attention of the mainstream art world with exhibitions by Jeff Koons, Laurie Simmons, Sarah Charlesworth, and Peter Halley; all of whom were quickly picked up by larger galleries.