Thirty years ago-during the waning months of the Gerald Ford administration and an economic recession that had begun with the oil embargo two years before-it must have seemed quixotic to launch an enterprise dedicated to showing and selling the work of young artists. However, this was precisely when Holly Solomon opened her gallery, joining such veteran art dealers as Leo Castelli, Paula Cooper, John Gibson, Ivan Karp, and Ileana Sonnabend, in the still-fringe neighborhood of Soho on September 6, 1975.
The 1970's are routinely characterized as a period of cultural malaise, or at best, a moment of transition, wedged between the dispensations of the post-war decades and the disbursements of a global marketplace ushered in after 1980. Correspondingly, American art during the 1970's has been unfairly dismissed as historically peripheral, self-indulgent, and theoretically inchoate. At the end of the decade, Holly Solomon organized a group show at her gallery that offered another point of view. "Food/Frameworks?" (December 19, 1979-January 2, 1980) included the work of twenty artists who had either worked at "Food"-an artist-operated restaurant founded by the dancer Caroline Gooden and the sculptor Gordon Matta-Clark-or at "Bark Frameworks, "a frame shop owned by the artist Jared Bark. Both were businesses built and based in Soho, that kept artists fed and employed, cementing the sense of community downtown. If this was a n expressly local and slightly fuzzy take on the time, nonetheless, Holly had caught the spirit of a moment that was already passing in 1980: the plurality of activity and the liminality of life in the studio; the freedom to experiment and improvise, when no one else was paying any attention, and the institutions of high culture seemed to be resolutely looking away.
"Cultured has nothing to do with purity, "I once overheard Holly remark. It was typically off-the-cuff on her part, but time hasn't dimmed its oracular ring. This was the other side of Holly Solomon's storied theatricality, her passionate rebuttal of modernist orthodoxy, her nonstop rebuke of received ideas. During the late 1970's and early 1980's, Holly would become celebrated for advocating the new "school" of pattern and decoration-in reality, a mere handful of artists, who were retrieving decoration from its minority status in the visual arts-namely, Brad Davis, Valerie Jaudon, Robert Kushner, Kim MacConnel, Thomas Lanigan-Schmidt, Ned Smyth and Robert Zakanitch. When she opened, however, counseled by Matta-Clark and the poet Ted Greenwald, Holly also showcased a cadre of post-minimalist and conceptual artists-Laurie Anderson, Tina Girouard, Suzanne Harris, Mary Heilmann, Jene Highstein, Richard Nonas and Matta Clark himself-as well as artists such as Donna Dennis and George Schneeman, associated with the poets of St. Marks Poetry Project on the Lower East Side. Between 1976 and 1983, Nicholas Africano, Robert Mapplethorpe, Izhar Patkin, Judy Pfaff, Janis Provisor, Alexis Smith, William Wegman, and Joe Zucker, among others, all joined the gallery, and European artists such as Annette Messager and Sigmar Polke had their New York debuts at Holly Solomon Gallery. It would be foolhardy to try to categorize them as a group, better to summon them historically, to assemble them locally. Better yet, let me propose that at their best, Holly's artists were not unlike Holly Solomon herself: heterodox, hybrid in sensibility, radically impure.
Neil Prinz, Editor, Andy Warhol Catalogue Raisonne
Property from the Estate of Holly Solomon