When I was young, one of the first rights of passage for an artist new to New York was to show one’s slides to Ivan Karp, owner of the OK Harris Gallery on West Broadway, one of the first art galleries to relocate downtown from the establishment’s 57th Street art scene.
Ivan Karp’s pioneering vision helped establish the Downtown art scene in the blighted commercial district of abandoned cast iron buildings bordered by Houston Street on the North, Canal Street on the South, Broadway on the East and West Broadway on the West. This area would later become what is known today as SoHo. (South of Houston Street) and for a few years, until gentrification, commercial development and an influx of wealthy lawyers and doctors and financial-types moved in, and gradually changed the essential character of the area, it was affordable, and a great place to live– and teeming with artists, bohemians and other creative-types.
Ivan Karp also owned The Hundred Acres Galley which was on West Broadway between Prince and Houston. That gallery was run by Barbara Toll, who, I believe now has her own gallery on Prince Street and was the first dealer in New York to show my work. One day, I just arrived at her gallery with a suitcase full of lithographs. That got her attention.
A couple of years later, when I was a taxi driver, she hailed me on the street, and I drove her to LaGuardia airport. I didn’t say a word to her the whole trip–and she didn’t recognize me. Another missed opportunity.
If I could live my life over again, I would have said, “Hi–you’re Barbara Toll, aren’t you? Do you remember me? You showed my work in the window of your gallery on West Broadway a couple of years ago….”
To which she might have replied, “Oh, yes….I remember you. You were making those things with found objects…what have you been doing lately? Are you still making art?”
Then, as I weaved in and out of traffic on the FDR Drive, I might have said, “Yes, as a matter of fact, after taking my slides around to various galleries in Manhattan, which were suggested to me by Ivan Karp, I had an epiphany. I realized that I was living in a ground floor storefront in the middle of an area full of artists and others interested in the arts, so I have been doing new work and exhibiting it in the window of my studio for passersby to see. I call it The Barking Dog Museum. It’s just an old milk crate, lined with sheetrock that I painted white. I cut a small hole in the top and there is a small light over it, illuminating it at night. Please stop by and see it if you are in the neighborhood.”
To which I now imagine she would have said, “All right, I will….can you write down the address for me on the back of my business card? In fact, here are TWO of them. Keep one….or better yet, take some color slides of some of your recent work and bring them to me at the gallery. I’ll be back from my trip on Thursday…..”
By then, we would have arrived at the airport, and she would have paid me, even given me a tip. Then I would have hopped out and opened the door for her and said, “Thanks! I’ll see you on Thursday.”I would have wished her a pleasant flight. Then I would have gotten back in my cab and driven away, feeling very hopeful about my prospects for the future, while trying to keep my taxi cab from taking off all by itself, into the clouds, like my spirit would, no doubt, have just done.
But, of course, none of that ever happened. For once, I kept my big mouth shut. And said not a word to her the whole trip.
I did have a big show of my best three-dimensional work at my studio about four years later, to which Ms. Toll was invited. She was kind enough to attend. Afterward, she even told my ex that I had a “great mind”.
I was surprised by her statement.
I wanted to believe her. I really hoped she was right. Although, if true, I wasn’t at all sure what I should be doing with it.