Art Vent Letting the Fresh Air In
March 15, 2013
Exactly 37 years ago, on the Ides of March, I moved from Chicago to New York to work as John Coplans’ assistant at Artforum. At the CAA convention in Chicago a couple of months before, manning the booth for The New Art Examiner, I met Coplans and asked him to let me know if he heard of a job in New York. Mind you, I had no intention of moving anywhere; I said it because I wanted to appear worldlier than my young, green, Midwestern self. I wanted to see what it would feel like to be someone who would actually say things like that.
So when Coplans called and offered me the job I was stunned. He also gave me only three days to decide and ten days to get myself there. My children were in Chicago, living with my husband—how could I leave? But my artist friends were insistent. At the time Artforum was the sun that rose and set on the art world; it was like being invited to Oz by the Wizard himself. A creature of the suburbs and married at 19, I didn't know New York, had never been to the museums and galleries I’d read about, so decided that if I could find a place to stay, I’d go for a couple of months and treat it like a work/study program. Coplans could always find another assistant.
When I called Spanish artist Àngels Ribé, who’d spent time in Chicago, and asked if she knew of an apartment, she said she was looking for a roommate. It seemed meant to be—except Àngels lived on the Bowery. My friend, Barry Holden, had visited her there, so I asked him, “Aren’t there like bums and stuff on the Bowery?” “Oh no,” he said, “it’s been gentrified. There are galleries and boutiques all up and down.” (This was 1976.)
My friends who worked at the Museum of Contemporary Art packed my stereo system like art and I took it on the plane with me, along with my suitcases (those were the days!). When the taxi dropped me off in front of 331 Bowery, Àngels didn’t answer my ring, and as I waited, my boxes attracted the curiosity of the denizens of the street who surrounded me. I looked around for the galleries and boutiques but didn’t see any. Maybe they were on the next block. I tried to drag my belongings into the ground-floor shop but the owner wasn’t having it. Could I use the door that entered into the hallway? “It doesn’t work,” he said, “hasn’t since the fire.” When was the fire? “Last Thursday.”
Finally Àngels came bouncing down the street in the company of one of (I found out later) a string of handsome boy friends, and they helped me take my things upstairs. The next day, having stepped over a drunk on the floor of our foyer, I took the subway to the Artforum offices on Madison Avenue. When later I asked Coplans why he gave me so little time to make the move, he said, “I knew if I gave you more, you wouldn’t come.” And when, after having searched the Bowery from one end to the other, I asked Barry about the galleries and boutiques, he said, “I knew if I told you the truth, you wouldn’t go.”
JOHN COPLANS, Self portrait, (SP 8 88), Front Hand Pinched,1988, photograph, ed. 12, circa 52x64cm