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55 Mercer Artists, Inc. records, 1939-2007, bulk 1970-2007

55 Mercer Artists, Inc. records, 1939-2007, bulk 1970-2007

55 Mercer Artists, Inc

Collection Information

Size: 5.1 linear feet

Summary: 55 Mercer Artists, Inc. records, 1939-2007, bulk 1970-2007, measure 5.1 linear feet. Administrative records, exhibition files, artists' files, financial records, scrapbooks, guest books, and printed material document the exhibitions, artists, and activities of one of the most successful and long lived artist-run cooperative spaces in SoHo. The records are incomplete with sizeable gaps.

Biographical/Historical Note

55 Mercer Artists, Inc. (established 1969, reorganized in 2008) was an artists' cooperative space in SoHo, N.Y.


Donated in 2007 by 55 Mercer Street Artists, Inc. via Ethelyn Honig.

A Finding Aid to the 55 Mercer Artists, Inc. Records,
bulk 1970-2007
, in the Archives of American Art
Finding aid prepared by Catherine S. Gaines
Biographical/Historical note
55 Mercer Artists, Inc., an artist-run alternative to commercial galleries, was founded as 55 Mercer Gallery - also known as 55 Mercer Street Gallery and 55 Mercer - in December 1969. The earliest of a second wave of co-operative galleries in New York City, it was one of the most successful and the longest lived.
Many of the founders and early members were active in the Art Workers' Coalition, a group formed to address artists' rights issues and promote the overhaul of the museum and gallery system to remove profit motives from art. Tom Parker, an artist friend acting on behalf of group members who aspired to open a co-operative gallery, rented the third floor of 55 Mercer Street. He reserved a room to use as a studio and sublet the remainder to the co-op. Two large galleries of nearly equal size were separated by a small, open office area, a layout that led to a tradition of tandem solo exhibitions or one large group show. The open, spare and worn space especially appealed to sculptors and attracted those who worked in large scale with recycled materials.
The inaugural exhibition in early 1970 was a group show of the ten founding members: Alice Adams, Martin Bressler, Don Cole, Gloria Greenburg, Stan Kaplan, Christy Park, Stephen Rosenthal, L. Shreve Stevenson, and Merrill Wagner; during the first year, each member also had a solo exhibition. With haphazard arrangements and no publicity or gallery guide listings, reviews were not forthcoming. Nevertheless, by the end of its first year the gallery had established a reputation as a space "of artists, by artists, and for artists" and over the years presented some of the best exhibitions in SoHo. Membership was fluid. No particular style or philosophy was ever dominant, and members found unity in their focus on quality, antipathy to commercial galleries and insistence on freedom for member and guest artists alike.
By the start of its second season, the gallery had the attention of critics and reviews were appearing regularly in art periodicals. When the co-operative gallery Ours closed at the end of 1970, Janet Fish, Diane Karol, Paul Tschinkel, and Frank Lincoln Viner were invited to join. With larger membership came the need for a definite exhibition schedule and greater organization. Over the next few years, meetings began to occur more frequently. By the mid 1970s the gallery began to receive funding from sources such as the New York State Council on the Arts and the National Endowment for the Arts.
Officially incorporated as 55 Mercer Street Artists, Inc. in 1977, the organizations by-laws specified: "The corporation is a not-for-profit corporation whose purpose is to provide a facility for artists who seek to introduce their work to the public. The corporation maintains an exhibition space which it makes available for this purpose, both for its artists members, and for visiting artists. In addition, the corporation presents performances, discussions, workshops and other art-related events for the general public." A board of directors composed of artist members managed the affairs of the corporation assisted by a Membership Committee, Grants Committee, and Selection Committee that chose and scheduled exhibitions,
Trustees began managing the building after the owner of the 55 Mercer Street died, and 55 Mercer Artists, Inc. received an eviction notice in early 2007. Legal representation was obtained and a loophole discovered, but declining membership and the poor physical condition of the facilities eventually prompted a decision to relocate. Some members chose to join other galleries. A core group of about a dozen 55 Mercer artists found a suitable space in Long Island City; after reorganizing as an artist-initiated not-for-profit gallery, they reopened in 2008 as M55 Mercer Art.
The collection is arranged as 7 series:
Series 1: Administrative Records, circa 1970-2007 (Box 1; 0.4 linear ft.)
Series 2: Exhibition Files, 1971-2007 (Box 1; 0.4 linear ft.)
Series 3: Artists' Files, 1939, 1973-2006 (Boxes 1-2; 0.6 linear ft.)
Series 4: Financial Records, 1973-2006 (Boxes 2-3; 0.8 linear ft.)
Series 5: Scrapbooks, 1977-1987 (Box 3; 0.3 linear ft.)
Series 6: Guest Books, 1972-2007 (Boxes 3-5; 1.7 linear ft.)
Series 7: Printed Material, 1973-2007 (Box 5, OV 6; 0.9 linear ft.)
Scope and Contents note
55 Mercer Artists, Inc. records, 1939-2007, bulk 1970-2007, measure 5.1 linear feet. The records, which are incomplete with sizeable gaps, consist of administrative records, exhibition files, artists' files, financial records, scrapbooks, guest books, and printed material that document one of the most successful and long lived artist run cooperative galleries in SoHo. The only item pre-dating 55 Mercer Artists, Inc. is a 1939 newspaper clipping in the artists' files.
Administrative records include correspondence, records of board committees, exhibition schedules, membership and mailing lists, and minutes. Exhibition files consist of slides and photographs of installations and individual works of art, small amounts of correspondence, notes, and lists of works shown.
Artists' files consist of various combinations of correspondence, resumes, printed material, photographs and slides of art work of members and guest artists. Many artists are represented by just an item or two; files for Corliss Cavaliere, Peter Charlap, Joan Gardner, Irene Gennaro, Jon Gregg, Ethelyn Honig, and Lisa Ingram are more substantial.
The majority of financial records concern membership dues, rent and exhibition fees received. Also included are sporadic banking records, paid bills, treasurers' reports, insurance information and tax records. Eight scrapbooks include exhibition announcements, publicity, reviews, miscellaneous printed material, photographs, and slides.
Guest books consist of 22 volumes and loose pages that record gallery visitors, many of whom offered comments about the shows. Exhibition titles and dates are noted on the page for the day of each opening reception.
Among the printed materials are exhibition announcements, catalogs, and publicity produced by 55 Mercer Artists, Inc.; copies of every exhibition announcement, catalog, and press release issued have not survived. Also found are articles about or mentioning 55 Mercer Artists, Inc., exhibition reviews, advertisements and event listings.
Donated in 2007 by 55 Mercer Street Artists, Inc. via Ethelyn Honig.
Processing Information
The collection was processed to an intetmediate level and a finding aid produced by Catherine S. Gaines in 2009.

Restrictions on Access

Use of original papers requires an appointment and is limited to the Archives' Washington, D.C., Research Center. Contact Reference Services for more information.

How to Cite This Collection

55 Mercer Artists, Inc. records, 1939-2007, bulk 1970-2007. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

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