Complex Made Simple

NYUAD Art Gallery examines the New York Art scene of the 1950s and 60s

The NYU Abu Dhabi Art Gallery (NYUAD Art Gallery) has opened its fall exhibition to the public on Wednesday to bring to Abu Dhabi a major collection of historical artworks, according to a statement.

Dubbed Inventing Downtown: Artist-Run Galleries in New York City, 1952–1965, the exhibition was organized by the Grey Art Gallery, New York University’s fine art museum in New York City.

“This major museum survey continues NYUAD Art Gallery’s exploration of artistic community, now through the lens of New York of the 1950s and 60s, when the artists of “Downtown” Manhattan paved the way for New York City’s rise as a cultural capital,” said the statement.

50 artists under the spot light

Inventing Downtown gathers over 200 very early works of over 50 artists. The artists range from the well-known (Dan Flavin, Louise Nevelson, Yayoi Kusama, Alex Katz, Mark di Suvero, Claes Oldenburg, Red Groms, and Yoko Ono) to many who deserve to be better-known (Ed Clark, Emilio Cruz, Lois Dodd, Rosalyn Drexler, Sally Hazelet Drummond, Jean Follett, Lester Johnson, Boris Lurie, and Aldo Tambellini).

This is a rare opportunity to see some of the earliest breakthrough works of these artists, including the painting, Ada Ada (1959), by celebrated figurative artist Alex Katz, a major early “infinity net” painting by Yayoi Kusama, and an assemblage by Dan Flavin from the year when he developed his trademark light-bulb installations.

Photographers John Cohen and Danny Lyon’s images show scenes from a New York City now lost in time, alongside documents and photographs from the art receptions, happenings, and correspondence around these artist-run spaces.

New York art scene in the 50’s and 60’s

Maya Allison, Founding Director and Chief Curator of the NYUAD Art Gallery, said: “Inventing Downtown further explores the ways in which artists develop communities with a DIY spirit, giving rise to major creative breakthroughs. Following on our exhibition But We Cannot See Them, in which we surveyed a particular avant-garde artist community in the UAE, this exhibition continues the discussion, now through the lens of New York in the 1950s. This is also a landmark moment for our academic museum, as this is our first major museum-loaned show, with works from over 100 museums and collectors in the US.”

Inventing Downtown examines the New York art scene between the peak of Abstract Expressionism in the early 1950s and the rise of Pop Art and Minimalism in the early 1960s. During this time, artists helped expand the definition of what constituted downtown Manhattan.

Establishing co-operative and artist-run galleries that triggered new aesthetic directions, they also extended eastward the parameters of what was considered “downtown,” toward the tenements and industrial buildings of Lower Manhattan. These spaces would help shape the artworks they created and exhibited.