A New York history of artistic experimentation and enterprise comes to Abu Dhabi

NYU Abu Dhabi Art Gallery continues its strong run of shows this October with Inventing Downtown New York: Artist-Run Galleries, 1952—1965. The show links nearly with latest exhibition, But We Cannot See Them: Tracing a UAE Art Community, 1988-2008. Like the latter, Inventing Downtown New York also focuses on artists’ communities. “What happens when artists organise their own exhibitions?” it asks. The short answer: experimentation.

Expect to see daring works from some of the 20th century’s most exciting artists, among them Yayoi Kusama, Alex Katz, Dan Flavin and Yoko Ono. Featuring 200 paintings, sculptures, installations, drawings, photographs and films, the exhibition will expose the heterogeneity of New York at a time when minimalism and performance art were joining figuration and abstraction to unconditionally change the art world.

Curator Melissa Rachleff, a clinical associate professor in the Department of Art and Art Professions at NYU’s Steinhardt School shines a light on under-recognised artists like Jean Follett, Lester Johnson and Lois Dodd.

“Some of the most critical innovations of the postmodern era emerged from this in-between, and largely forgotten, period in postwar American art history,” says says. This revolutionary collection comes from New York University’s Grey Art Gallery, which has been in Greenwich Village since 1975.

Inventing Downtown New York is as much about place as it is about people. Post-war New York found a new avant-garde confidence that was embodied in the seminal Ninth Street Show in 1951, where the likes of William de Kooning and Jackson Pollock staked their claim as contemporaries of the European movements. Artist-run spaces like Brata, City and Reuben Galleries opened their doors in the following years. Some were cooperatives with no rules, others created templates for modern gallery-artist relations.

The show also traces the evolution of wider sociological issues, with the civil rights movement coming to the fore. This thoroughly encyclopaedic trip around a much-loved city is due to run over the winter months, and will demand repeat visits.

Featured image: Alex Katz, Ada Ada, 1959, oil on canvas, 49 × 50 in, Grey Art Gallery, New York University Art Collection, gift of Mr. and Mrs. Samuel Golden, 1963.13. Art © Alex Katz/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY

A version of this article appeared in print in Selections, A Dialogue Between Generations of Arab Women in Art #42, page 31.