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MERLE SCHIPPER

THE MARKET STREET PROGRAM

[1] [2] [3]

(1) Doug Edge, "Fantasy Photo:, photograph, 1971.
(2) Connie Zehr, "Portrait of Famela", installation shot, poured sand and earth, 1971.
(3) Randye Sandel, "Ivy", o/c, 1971.

"The Market Street Program is a senes of group exhibitions based on a comprehensive research project directed toward exhibiting the work of professional artists according to their own criteria. Artists are then asked by questionnaire which other artists they would like to exhibit with. This information is correlated, forming clusters of artists sharing similar opinions and the relative similarity between clusters. This information is graphically displayed by computers."
--Josh Young, from letter to Secretary, William E. Whitney Foundation, November 1971.
Market Street Program Papers, Archives of Amencan Art


During a period that was something of a plateau for Los Angeles art in terms of bringing its own home-grown art into the mainstream, amidst the most noteworthy of those, Light and Space, there emerged a phenomenon named for its address: 72 Market Street. Now this was at a time, dunng the 1960's, before the idea of a restaurant located there was even a gleam in anyone's eye. The Market Street Program offered, during its brief existence from 1971-73, an endeavor that was of wide interest not only in California, in the Bay Area as well as here in L.A., but observed with interest around the country and beyond.

Based at what was then the studio of artist Robert Irwin, it vigorously championed the premise that artists are more competent to make curatorial selections than other professionals in the field. Coming at a time when the number of art galleries in the area had conspicuously dwindled, and such nonprofit spaces like LAICA and LACE were yet to emerge, Market Street offered exposure to artists deserving of visibility without the issues of salespotential or curatorial bias functioning as a determining factor. Thus, persons whose work might embody new directions, if still in embryo, could be awarded the opportunity to show.

The principal consideration was historically based, in that, as the program's initiator Josh Young has pointed out, the rise of modern art was related to the social foundation of art. This was demonstrated even in the late nineteenth century, as Young, who originated the program pointed out. The French Impressionists, to point out a most prominent example, functioned as a group presence and were mutually supportive of one another.

The Market Street Program actually had its conception when Young, as a painting student at UC Irvine, became aware of ongoing studies on the social networks of scientists. Indeed, the Irvine environment, he found, furnished the opportunity to explore both fields, normally widely separated in academia, and ultimately leading him to switch to sociology. As a painting major, however, it led him to organize an exhibition--based on the hypothesis underlying what became the Market Street Program--as a trial run. That effort included work by the late Pat Hogan, now New York-based David Deutch, and others.

The projectcame into being afterWalter Hopps, then director of Washington's Corcoran Gallery organized the institution's 1971 Biennial. He asked each of the artists that he selected to choose another. Irwin, who had taught at Irvine in the late '60s and was intrigued with the concept demonstrated by the earlier show, selected Young. Irwin's piece in the show was a scrim; Young's aproposal for new guidelines for curating.

Along with Irwin, who offered a space that was totally free of objects that could interfere with work on exhibition, and consequently an ideal gallery setting, assistance came from Hopps, psychologist Ed Wortz, and technical experts including a Ph.D. in computer science from Harvard, another from
Columbia, a $15,000 NEA grant, and contributions from vanous donors. Thus the project got underway in early 1971. It functioned for two years, with exhibitions spreading to institutions in both Southern and Northern California: LACMA, Long Beach Museum, Pasadena Museum, USC, Newport Harbor Museum, UC San Diego, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Oakland
Museum, UC Berkeley Museums, and Monterey Peninsula Museum all participated.

The Program was organized into three phases, as outlined in a report on the history of the Program now held by the Archives of American Art.

Phase 1 encompassed the process of selecting artists to be exhibited. Here interviews of artists were undertaken, the interviewees principally "opinion leaders," i.e., persons who command respect from large segments of their peer group. The choice was also intended to span "social stratas" (a way of avoiding limitation to "established" figures?).

Questionnaires were sent to artists listed as "colleagues," their responses resulting in new artists to be contacted. Reported in Artforum by Peter Plagens, himself a participant in an exhibition, this was commendable. "The idea, a radial model of the 'small world hypothesis' (everybody knows somebody who knows somebody else, etc.) is ingratiating, flexible and ongoing, with newcomers constantly being fed into the system."

Phase 2 consisted of the compiling of information collected using computers--at that early stage the technology was actually engaged only for calculation purposes--to show what responses reveal in terms of consistencies of preference and frequencies of groupings. It also disclosed geographical commonalities, Young noted, such as indications that artists in Pasadena were doing similar work to those in Santa Monica.

Phase 3 determined the exhibition program. This was the process adopted for bringing together persons for exhibitions, and described in Young's report as "groups of artists displaying prominent positions in terms of the results from phase 2." Here, terminology, was clanfied in terms that could be arguable. "Prominent," for example, implied distinctive rather than popular.

What was key to this exercise was the grouping of artists who made similar choices as well as those who were frequently selected together in the over 600 responses received from artists who were sent questionnaires.

The opening show included work by Doug Edge, Terry O'Shea, and Joe Ray (Edge is the only member among the group whose work continues to be viewed on the local scene). However, this exhibition, dubbed The Fantasy Show, did not offer art reflecting each artist's direction, but offered an opportunity, as Edge recalls, to experiment with conceptual ideas in photography.

The show consisted of seven photographs featuring the artists themselves, although in one example a fully dressed Ray appears with three nude women a photo reminiscent of the famous Duchamp chess game made at the time of his Pasadena Museum show.

That photo might well have outraged feminists, and justly so, but Plagens' labeling of the second show as "a covey of militant women" in his article was perhaps even more infuriating. Nevertheless, the show, which consisted of work by Randye Sandel, Susan Titelman (now Cooder), Randall Welles, Wanda Westcoast and Connie Zehr, could be considered a landmark event, considering that the women's movement was then just getting underway. (For the record, of the fifteen group shows undertaken there were two other all-woman shows, and one four-to-one male; one other group show included a single woman.)

The press showed considerable interest in the Market Street Program. Newsweek recommended, "Artists are always guiding curators to other artists. It is time they be given a formal hand in museum exhibition policy." L..A. Times critic Henry Seldis declared, ". . .the scope and method of the Market Street Program is unprecedented. . .It seems anyone wishing to expand his experience with what art is being made around here today has an obligation to himself to visit 72 Market Street (the gallery) or other exhibition areas used by the Market Street Program."

If not every artist shown is a household name today--by and large they were then in early career--most are still exhibiting. Some, like Chris Burden--he did his famous Bed piece--and William Wegman--here (with his pesky hound Man Ray, as many will recall) only briefly--are known world-wide. Michael Asher and Allan Ruppersberg both had solos, because according to Young, everybody wanted to show with them.

Young served as initiator and organizer, admintstrator, secretary, fundraiser, archivist, and just about everything else required over his tenure. So no wonder that the program ended when he departed to return to other activities ! Hopefully, though, this sketch might reawaken the memory of some who have forgotten the particulars of events; they do recall that it was a formidable enterprise, so that a retrospective analysis (maybe even a retrospective show) can be.undertaken. We always profit from learning more about ourselves. The story of the Market Street Program might just tell us things we need to know.