Art in the Village: East 10th Street Galleries
Perhaps the most well-known art movement associated with Greenwich Village is Abstract Expressionism (also known as the New York School). Abstract Expressionism, which focused on the portrayal of emotions rather than objects, originated in the Village during the mid-1940s, and artists of the movement echoed Surrealism (think Salvador Dali’s dreamlike paintings) and/or European Modernism (think Picasso). Famous Abstract Expressionists include Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, and Willem de Kooning. The noteworthy pioneers of Abstract Expressionism paved the way for a new generation of ideas, creativity, and expression in and around the Village.
Adding to its attractiveness as a creative hub, many artists of the mid-20th century flocked to the Village because space for working and living was relatively cheap and ample. This led to the birth of the East 10th Street Galleries, a cooperative of artist-run galleries that started opening their doors during the early 1950s. These modest, small, and un-staffed venues were an avant-garde alternative to the upscale and extremely selective art galleries that lined Madison Avenue and 57th Street at that time.
Nestled between 3rd and 4th Avenues on East 10th Street, the galleries of the co-op were typically founded by unknown artists, and though a majority of the galleries’ members were also unfamiliar at the time, many became famous in the years to come (such as Alex Katz, George Segal, and Phillip Harrington). Like the eclectic nature of the Village itself, gallery members included artists of various mediums and movements – sculptures, painters, photographers, and performance artists, Abstract Expressionists, American Realists, Pop Artists, and Collagists. Willem de Kooning, Franz Kline and other eminent artists had studios near the 10th Street Galleries and often served as important mentors and supporters of the cooperative’s members.
Though most of the 10th Street Galleries no longer exist today, the influence they had on the history of American art is clear. The artists and galleries of the collaborative block heralded the SoHo and Chelsea gallery scenes and proved that artists of all kinds could live, work, and operate together, inspiring one another and those around them.