Sunday, April 1, 2012

Stefan Eins joins the Flint Public Art Project

The Flint Public Art Project and Stefan Eins are beginning conversations with local producers to develop a cultural concept for public art in Flint, Michigan.

Eins founded an alternative space in the South Bronx in 1978 that was a key inspiration for the Flint Public Art Project.

A pioneer of the Soho artist colony, in 1967, Eins moved from Vienna to New York, and by the spring of 1973 he settled in a ground-floor cast-iron storefront on Mercer Street, opening up one of the first artist-run galleries in the district. Eins lived in a room in back and in front ran a gallery open to proposals from all visitors.

He wanted to sell inexpensive art that was easy for everyone to buy.

Soho had only a few years earlier begun transitioning from a half-abandoned landscape of brick-paved streets lined with 19th-century cast-iron warehouses. The city designated the neighborhood an urban renewal area in the 1960s: it intended to demolish all of the cast-iron buildings and replace them with a highway to Jersey City. But a group founded by a writer and editor at Architectural Forum named Jane Jacobs spearheaded community opposition to the project, and finally in 1968, they succeeded in stopping it.


The 3 Mercer Street gallery quickly became a gathering place for a young group of artists who had barely missed the hey-day of cheap real estate in Soho by a year or two: investors were already recognizing signs of profit and sweeping up land. In 1971, New York legalized live-work spaces for certified artists and set up a board to certify them. By 1973 the Landmarks Commission--established in 1965 after the wake-up call of the demolition of McKim, Mead, and White's Penn Station--designated Soho a historic district, prohibiting the buildings from being destroyed.

                                                        Penn Station

Money discovered Soho, for better and for worse, and as the artist colony began to disappear, Eins decided to go in a different direction. A group of friends had formed a nonprofit called Collaborative Projects in 1978 to apply for money from state and federal grant programs for their work without relying on established uptown institutions. Inspired by images of a wasted landscape of burned buildings and rubble, Eins surmised that the South Bronx possessed its own vibrant culture beneath the surface that only needed to be recognized.

                                                   Charlotte Street, South Bronx

He looked for a space close to a subway stop that would be easily accessible to visitors from downtown Manhattan. At the area known as the Hub, at 3rd Avenue and 149th Street, Eins rented a storefront that had been looted during the 1977 blackout. He cleaned it out and opened it up to the local community and downtown artists. The name of the gallery was "Fashion" in four languages: English, Chinese, Spanish, and Russian, or FASHION 時裝 MODA МОДА. It became known as simply Fashion Moda.

                                                              Crash, Fashion Moda

Fashion Moda became a stomping ground for Bronx-based artists, graffiti-writers, DJs, rappers, and beat-boys, who mixed with emerging conceptual artists from the downtown scene just starting to gain recognition. Crash, Daze, Lady Pink, Fab Five Freddy, John Fekner, John Ahearn, Jenny Holzer, Kiki Smith, Keith Haring, and David Wojnarowicz were among the artists who showed in the gallery. It was the space that launched hip hop into the downtown scene and made graffiti a recognized form in the art world. Shows from Fashion Moda traveled across the country, activating collaborative projects with communities in the Midwest, and participated in major exhibitions in Europe.

                                                          City Maze, Jane Dickson

Eins continues to work in a collaborative manner, producing inexpensive multiples that he sells personally, and creating new models for engaging social inequity through cultural production. Selections from the South Bronx project are currently on view at the Neuberger Museum in Purchase, NY. We are very excited to have him as a participant and collaborator on upcoming projects in Flint, Michigan.