The influential art dealer Konrad Fischer (1939-1996) once said that a gallery’s primary goal should be ‘to keep the family informed,’ by which he meant continually nurturing the conversations and the overlapping networks of people—artists, curators, collectors, writers, historians, and everyday art enthusiasts—that together bring meaning, importance and joy to the deeply human experience of art. For at least the last half century, New York has been one of the world’s most dynamic cities in its share of nonprofit institutions founded to broaden the boundaries of art and to keep the family—the many families of a more diverse art world—informed.
Giving back to a community
Artists for New York
These institutions, many of which were born over the span of a single decade, from 1968 to 1977, have often operated on narrow financial margins. Some have weathered crises over the decades that have threatened their very existence. But the COVID-19 pandemic has presented perhaps the most complex and unpredictable challenge they have ever faced to their continued operation.
Several of the institutions, including El Museo del Barrio, the Studio Museum in Harlem, and White Columns, were founded by artists and all have been intensely focused on living artists. With that in mind, it seems wholly fitting that artists are now coming together to help the places that have nurtured them and formed the backbone of the contemporary art scene. Artists for New York, a major initiative involving the sale of works by more than 100 of the world’s most prominent artists, will raise money to support the recovery needs of 14 key institutions, with works available to view online beginning 1 October and many works also on view publicly beginning 6 October at Hauser & Wirth’s New York gallery spaces, inaugurating the opening of its new building at 542 West 22nd Street and also uptown at 32 East 69th Street, through October 22.
Gathered here is a continuously updated collection of voices, images and historical material from the partner art institutions—providing a framework for deeper understanding of the significant role these institutions have played in shaping the city’s cultural landscape—as well as the voices of some of the artists whose work will go toward helping sustain this group of museums and art spaces through an uncertain future.
Jessica Morgan, Nathalie de Gunzburg Director, Dia Art Foundation
‘Since Dia was founded in New York City in 1974 we have worked with artists to realize ambitious projects both here in the city, around the United States, and abroad. Our mission is uniquely focused following artists’ visions through to the end, regardless of scale or scope. Today, we run five sites in New York City, all of which are free to the public.
New York City is part of our DNA. From our exhibition spaces in Chelsea, to the Max Neuhaus sound installation under the grates of Times Square that surprises and delights tourists and New Yorkers alike, to our permanent Walter De Maria sites in SoHo where we started, and more, this city is intrinsic to us as an organization, and to the works our artists create here.
What has struck me most of all during this time of crisis is how galleries, museums, artists, and art lovers have come together in an unprecedented way. As with all things, it is only by working together and supporting one another that we can emerge from what has been one of the most difficult years for us all.’
Sally Tallant, President and Executive Director, Queens Museum
‘The Queens Museum is located in the heart of one of the biggest of the five boroughs. There are 2.3 million people in Queens. And of that 2.3 million, 59 percent speak a language other than English as their first language. So we’re in a minority-majority borough, one of the most diverse places in the United States.
We present artists at often very early stages in their careers. And we try to work closely with our communities to better understand how we can make exhibitions that are relevant and resonant and part of the ecology. We feel that we are an entry point for many people, both for an engagement with culture, but also for the cultural sector.
I think our job is really to put art at the center of a conversation about how we play a role in processing what’s happened to us. Artists know how to process grief. They know how to provide care in terms of expressing our emotions and somehow collectively understanding things. And I think we understand that the museum has a role to play in that. We want to understand more about how we can be more useful to or more meaningful for our communities as the months now roll into winter.’
‘I believe very strongly, at the heart of the thing, that artists are the harbingers or the catalysts for change in our society.’—Jasmine Wahi
Jasmine Wahi, Holly Block Social Justice Curator, Bronx Museum of the Arts
‘I think cultural institutions are in a moment of dynamic shift. Everything is in a moment of shift. I think the reason that we have to support cultural institutions is not only for the spaces that they provide for communities, but also for the opportunities that they provide for artists to share their voices and their messages. I believe very strongly, at the heart of the thing, that artists are the harbingers or the catalysts for change in our society, whether it’s voting, whether it’s creating new systems. They’re the unsung or unrecognized heroes, and without them, none of these changes would happen. I think that’s why it’s really important to continue to support the arts, especially in the main art city in the world, which is New York City.’
Mary Heilmann, Artist
Mary Heilmann came to New York in 1968 to be, as she has said, “a part of the group”—to join the community of artists she admired. In the fall of 2008, she had her first museum solo exhibition and retrospective in New York at the New Museum.
‘Living in Chatham Square, on the Bowery…where we all hung out, was the beginning of my having a sense that community was an important part of the work. Before, my model for being an artist was this sort of lone-person-up-in-a-garret, where you work all alone all day and then you go out to a bar and just get drunk and get in a fight and then sleep all morning and get back into it. That changed in those years.’
Thelma Golden, Director and Chief Curator, The Studio Museum in Harlem
‘Every cultural institution, at every scale in New York City, has been hit hard by COVID-19, each in its own way. The disruption that the pandemic has caused has been felt deeply, forcing us to temporarily pause construction on our new building, curtailing programing at our Studio 127 space, causing our artists-in-residence to relocate into separate off-site studios, and more.’
‘It’s the uncertainty about what comes in the next six months, 12 months, 18 months, 24 months, 36 months. How does a small organization continue without using the old models of how we raise funds?’—Matthew Higgs
Matthew Higgs, Director and Chief Curator, White Columns
‘White Columns was founded in 1970 and was originally known as the 112 Workshop. The name came after its street address, which was 112 Green Street in Soho. It’s considered to be the first of what came to be known as ‘the alternative art spaces,’ and was really part of a larger narrative, which was about artists seeking to take control, seeking to think about the conditions in which their work was seen and to create a context for ideas that at that time, perhaps, weren’t necessarily being addressed within the mainstream.
Of the thousands of artists that have shown at White Columns over the last 50 years, many of those have gone on to both national and international acclaim. Cady Noland had her first exhibition at White Columns in 1988. John Currin had his first show in 1989. Glenn Ligon had his first show in the early ’90s, along with people like Jack Pierson, Gary Simmons, and many others.
Like a lot of small organizations, White Columns doesn’t have an endowment. We start every financial year on September the first with zero dollars. The organization has weathered every kind of financial and political and social crisis that New York’s had in the last five decades. The only upside to that is that I think we’re prepared for what’s been happening recently during the coronavirus. And I think we’re able to absorb some of the initial shocks to the economy, simply because we’ve always been absorbing economic shocks. But going forward, I think it’s the uncertainty about what comes in the next six months, 12 months, 18 months, 24 months, 36 months. How does a small organization continue without using the old models of how we raise funds?
It seems to me the easiest way to think about why New York’s kind of cultural life is so extraordinary is to imagine the city without these nonprofit cultural institutions—whether it’s the opera, the theater, or the visual arts—to imagine the city without them. I think it’s immediately apparent then just what an extraordinary loss it would be, not just for the city itself, but also for art and for the future development of art.’
Simon Castets, Director, Swiss Institute
‘Swiss Institute is an independent non-for-profit space for international contemporary art that was created in 1986 in New York City and is known for providing a space for emerging artists, with a program of exhibitions, public programs, education workshops, all of this free of charge to ever growing audiences in its new building in the East Village.
It is part of a very dense ecosystem in New York City that I think is quite unique in the world. I can’t think of any other city in the world that has such a wide number of spaces where contemporary art is shown at the same time. There’s never enough time to see all the exhibitions. I think that’s a really key part of what makes New York City so special is the wealth of arts and cultural programming in general.
We have just re-opened our doors, and from day one we welcomed about a third of the number of people that we normally welcome, which is much more than we had anticipated. And we’re very glad for that. To see that there is such a demand to see art after months of closure is quite heartwarming.’
Cecilia Alemani, Director and Chief Curator, High Line Art
‘Our mission is to reimagine the role that public spaces have in creating connected and healthy cities around the world. This has of course been a difficult time for all of us—especially during the month the park has been closed. We were lucky to be able reopen the park in July and it’s been truly wonderful to welcome back our visitors and our communities, who have the chance to spend the time outdoors, admiring our wonderful, lush nature, appreciating the incredible artworks we have on view.
We like to look at The High Line as an important artery that brings oxygen to the west side of Manhattan. Now more than ever, this is a time where we need to come together as a community and find strength in one another.
We like to think of The High Line as a physical connector that connects the many different realities that surround the park—including all the galleries, the non-profits, the museums, and also the community centers and the community that lives and works around The High Line park. I also like to think of The High Line as a metaphorical connector, a space where you can take a break from the noise of the city, but where you can also rewrite and reimagine the future of our city.’
‘New York, in my experience, can go through tremendous losses and tragedies and it comes back. It actually comes back stronger.’—Avery Singer
Avery Singer, Artist
‘I’m a third generation native New Yorker. My family immigrated here from Eastern Europe around the turn of the century. They came through Ellis Island. They settled in the Lower East Side, the Bronx, and Queens. I personally grew up in lower Manhattan, really close to City Hall. My experience of growing up in New York was just very Bohemian, very artistic. All of my friends grew up like me. They were artists. Their parents were artists, choreographers, photographers, whatever.
I mean, this is the best city to be an artist. We just have the most amazing museums, galleries, scenes. You can find anything here, any interest or path you want to take, there’s another 10,000 people that want to do it with you. I’m proud to be a New Yorker.
It might look a little bit different and it might take some time, but New York, in my experience, can go through tremendous losses and tragedies and it comes back. It actually comes back stronger.’
Kyle Dancewicz, Interim Director, SculptureCenter
‘As we’ve geared up to reopen SculptureCenter with two major new exhibitions by Tishan Hsu and Jesse Wine, both of which were rescheduled from early May, each day spent in the museum has only confirmed how critical it is to make space for the way artists see and think about the world. The weird clarity of art objects feels amazing right now. That so many artists have recognized SculptureCenter and these other organizations’ roles in supporting their work and contributing to a greater art ecosystem is incredibly humbling.’
‘Each day spent in the museum has only confirmed how critical it is to make space for the way artists see and think about the world. The weird clarity of art objects feels amazing right now.’—Kyle Dancewicz
Rodrigo Moura, Chief Curator, El Museo Del Barrio
‘El Museo is the leading Latino institution in the art field in the United States. It was founded in 1969 in the context of the civil rights movement in the United States to give representation to Puerto Rican and Latino communities in New York, their culture, our culture, and the arts and culture at large.
New York is one of the most vibrant cities in the country, in the world, and as such it has different art worlds. So El Museo is really in the center of one of these art worlds, which is Uptown, East Harlem, the Latino communities in the city. We’ve been really serving our community for over 50 years with exhibitions, public programs, collection-showing and so on. It’s really one of the main Latino cultural centers in the United States.
It is fundamental to have an institution in New York City that is cultural specific, that is ethnocentric, in a way, to the contributions of Latin Americans, Latinos, Caribbeans in the U.S., because this population and these cultures are really part of and have formed what New York City is.’
Marcus Jahmal, Artist
‘When I think about how New York has shaped me as an artist, the neighborhood of Prospect Heights in Brooklyn comes to mind. Growing up there, I was emersed in a rich Caribbean culture and there was a real sense of community. That, coupled with all the amazing institutions such as the Brooklyn Museum, the Botanical Gardens, Prospect Park, and the Brooklyn Public Library at Grand Army Plaza were all in my backyard. It made me feel like the whole world was at reach and introduced me to important histories.’
Laura Hoptman, Executive Director, The Drawing Center
‘The Drawing Center has been around for over 40 years, concentrating specifically on drawing. We’ve been in the SoHo neighborhood since 1977, and during this period of crisis—multiple crises—we’ve been challenged, but we have prevailed. Our fellow not-for-profits banded together with us over the summer to pool our resources, and it just goes to show you that these not-for-profit institutions in New York were really founded not only with the artists in mind, but by artists. We really are an artist-centric institution, and we continue to be that way.
After having worked in museums for 25 years of my career, I knew that my real North Star was artists and the community of New York City. This is where I have worked my entire professional life and where I’ve lived my entire adult life. The Drawing Center, for me, is the epitome of that kind of organization that uplifts this great community that we have.. There’s just nothing that compares to the New York visual arts community — from the smallest institution, like the Drawing Center, to the largest, like the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
In this period of time of cautious reopening in New York City, it just makes my heart sing to know that there are so many people clamoring to come to the Drawing Center and see our exhibitions—people excited to be able to look at art again, to be uplifted by art and also to buy art, because they know that it uplifts and supports what is the most vital part of this community, that is, the artists and the institutions that show them.’
Nicholas Baume, Director and Chief Curator, Public Art Fund
‘Since 1977, Public Art Fund’s mission has been really driven by our core values. We believe that the city should be a platform for artists, that artists should participate in our civic dialogue and that they should have a role in the everyday life of the people of New York City.
When the pandemic hit, we realized that Public Art Fund actually played a very unique role. As we saw all of our sister institutions, museums, and galleries of New York City having to close, we understood that public space was the only part of the city that was remaining open.
Public Art Fund has had an opportunity to continue to give artists a forum and a platform to create work and share it with the public. For me, as someone who didn’t grow up in New York or even in this country, New York has an existence in the imagination. It doesn’t matter where you’re from. It is the artists who have shaped our image of New York and who have a dialogue with the city that has shaped their work. And that has been happening for decades.
I think our contemporary artists who come here from all over the world articulate what it means to be a part of this diverse, democratic city and what it means to have a voice in this society.’
Marc Payot, President, Hauser & Wirth
‘When the pandemic hit in March and I realized that the opening of our new space with a large ambitious group show with loans from all over the world was not the right thing to do, I thought: How can we open this new gallery?
We decided that we needed to give back to what we actually care about most in the city. And thinking of these 12 years of our existence in New York City, these institutions have really given us so many ideas and artists we didn’t know about and creativity on an incredible level.
And so, from the beginning we thought, about this new building: What do we actually need so that it works for us, for our artists? We wanted to create a home for our artists. And so ‘Artists For New York’ is a perfect beginning because it is creating a home in the sense of a city, of the core of that creativity being where this is shown.’
Hauser & Wirth is foregoing any fee or commission on the sales, and all artists have agreed to donate their artwork so that at least half of the sale proceeds go to the identified New York nonprofits. After deduction of any share of proceeds to be retained by artist, and the reimbursement to Hauser & Wirth for its nominal fundraiser administration costs all proceeds will be donated to the identified New York nonprofits.