Sunday, August 25, 2013

Currently on the Calendar: Truly a Full Service Bookstore

As Art on the Block's release date of September 17th approaches, my calendar is filling up with invitations to read and sign copies of the book. I am particularly thrilled that my first event on the evening of publication is at The Corner Book Store on Madison Avenue and 93rd Street.

The Corner Bookstore
Palgrave Macmillan
request the pleasure of your
company for a reading by
Ann Fensterstock
author of

Art on the Block
Tracking the New York Art World
from Soho to the Bowery,
Bushwick and Beyond
Art on the Block Cover
Tuesday, September 17th · 6:00 p.m. 
Wine and Cheese Reception & Book Signing Will Follow the Reading

The terrific staff there – whose impressive literary backgrounds are worth checking out on their website at – are all very old friends. As a twenty year resident of the Upper East Side this was my local independent bookstore from 1986 until 2006.

Throughout the 1980s Nick, Chris, Danielle and their colleagues kept my husband Lee and I supplied with the armfuls of good reading that is the luxury of couples-before-children.

The late '80s saw my purchasing profile change for copies of Good Night Moon and The Big Red Barn for our then-little girls Kate and Jane. Into the early 1990s we journeyed onwards to chapter books and high school reading lists.

In the mid '90s the staff calmly took my orders for such works as Painted Love: The Art of Prostitution in Nineteenth Century France – with no questions asked. My return to graduate school and an M.A. in Art History was, in fact, the answer.

Through the late '90s they remained equally discreet over Gothic: Transmutations of Horror in Twentieth Century Art and Fetish: Fashion, Sex and Power. It was at this point (for fear of a call to Social Services – Department of Unfit Motherhood) that I felt compelled to explain my Thesis on the art of the twentieth century fin-de-siecle.

When Art on the Block was first announced by Palgrave Macmillan in their spring catalogue, The Corner Book Store picked it up immediately and asked to be the first to offer it to my many good friends and old neighbors. Like a good marriage – things change but the perfect partner just keeps right up there with you.

Support your local indie bookstore!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Every Picture Has a Story: Art on the Block's Imagery

The news this week of the Getty Museum's "Open Content Program" and its hopes "to share freely, and without restriction, as many of the Getty's digital resources as possible" was heartening at many levels –  and for a variety of different art world professionals.

Before writing a book of my own, I had often mused about the choices art historians made over their illustrations. Wouldn't a work by this artist have better served their point? Wasn't a different piece by that artist an altogether stronger work? Why not have more gorgeous color plates instead of the diminutive black and white so-called 'figs'?

As I approached the end of my writing and headed into the exciting prospect of illustrating 'Art on the Block', my very wise editors at Palgrave Macmillan cautioned me to set aside a good degree of time and a hefty piece of budget as I set about the image permissions process. They were right!

From the earliest stages of the book proposal, my vision had been to curate a small exhibition between its pages, using not simply documentary photography of the neighborhoods and players, but attributable works of art that had been created in response to the places, the people and the issues of the time. (I am sharing here a few of my particular favorites that made it into print.)

Anton Van Dalen, Evangelical Christian Church, 1983, oil on canvas.
Courtesy of Anton Van Dalen and Adam Baumgold Gallery, NY.

With a Masters Degree in Art History and twenty-five years of looking at contemporary work around the galleries and museums, surely the choices would be dazzling and the process simple. I knew what I wanted. Getting it, however, was an all together different challenge and it is in this context that the Getty's move will be music to the ears of many a struggling arts writer.

Copyrights to works of art belong to the artist– and justly so. A painting, sculpure or film is the fruit of creative process, is intellectual property and and should be paid for as such. Even when an artist is no longer living their permissions process is often managed by their Estate. 'The Estate' more often than not is a small group of devotees working hard to protect the artist's legacy. Routinely staff- and budget-stretched, these estates often hand the cumbersome work of permissions granting over to agencies like the Artists Rights Society (ARS) or VAGA. Procedures must be gone through to satisfy these agents that the artist's work will be used appropriately and fees are charged for the service they provide.

Rick Prol, Soil, 1982-3, mixed media on broken window.
Courtesy of Rick Prol.

Even when a living artist is enthusiastic about a project and generously allows use of their work without charging copyright, images must still be supplied. A work might already be in a private collection or is currently in storage. An emerging artist is often hard pressed to pay for a quality photo shoot. High resolution, big file digitals often require paying for a YOUSENDIT or Dropbox account. Commercial image banks exist but their prices can run to many hundreds of dollars per image and make the use of a choice visual (or ten of them) way beynd the means of an author and their publisher. As we have seen this week, even museums usually charge for images of works they own.

While the Getty's move has its limitations to works in the public domain or in its own collections, it is  a step in the right direction. Let's hope that other arts institutions find ways to forgo this undeniably lucrative income stream, find that money elsewhere, and free up arts researchers and writers to get the works of art of their choice out into the world.

In the meantime I thank with utmost sincerity everyone involved in my ultimately getting (almost) everything I wanted in the centrefold of the book. To the artists who carted their paintings or drawings across town to get a digital shot, to the galleries who absorbed the copyright charges, to the archives and Estates who reduced their usual fee or were flexible on the wording of their contracts to allow me both print and electronic distribution rights. I am very grateful.

Elisabeth Kley, Jack Smith, Ethyl Eichelberger & Candy Darling, 2006, pencil, ink and gouache on Japanese paper.
Courtesy Elisabeth Kley and Momenta Art, NY

Friday, August 9, 2013

In the Press and "On the Block"

It was very gratifying this week to see well-deserved press attention for two of the artists who generously granted me copyrights to use their work in the color plates centerfold of Art on the Block.

Congratulations to both Loren Munk for the dynamite double spread of his work The East Village Scene up through September 7th at Freight + Volume and exuberantly reviewed by Jerry Saltz in New York Magazine:

And to Charlie Ahearn for the New York Times coverage of his new documentary Jamel Shabazz Street Photographer:

Both Loren and Charlie responded enthusiastically to my research and have been generous donors to the final Art on the Block end result. Truth be told, each of them have both the personal experience and the background knowledge to have written this book themselves.

Loren Munk, (also known as James Kalm – his nom de plume as a long time contributor to the Brooklyn Rail), is quoted at several points in my Williamsburg chapters. On the scene, around the shows and always with a point of view, Kalm's archives already afford valuable historical material on the Brooklyn scene throughout both its infancy and its heyday.

Munk's activities as 'The Guy on the Bike" are also covered and his bushwhacking role as a videographer of gallery opening nights long before he could upload his footage to YouTube are described.

Always generous in making his work available to curators of group shows, I've studied Munk's work (literally, up close with note book in hand) in a variety of exhibitions. For this stunner below I have Loren and Lesley Heller Workspace to thank. Lesley's history as a dealer is documented up through her arrival in the Orchard Street cluster in 2010 and so I thought it fitting to choose The Bowery and the Lower East Side from amongst the many possibilities Loren's encyclopedic range affords. 

Charlie Ahearn is, of course, a legend in his own right and has been revered amongst filmmakers since his still-riveting-to-watch Wild Style of 1983. Although Wild Style was based around the street art and music scene in the South Bronx in the early 1980s, Ahearn's footage includes some breathtakingly good shots of the City's subway trains that graffiti writers like Fab Five Freddy, Dondi and Zephyr had bombed and which, once tagged with their brash urban iconography, would travel across the five boroughs of New York City. Charlie gave me two images for Art on the Block – Campbell Soup Train, 1980 – painting by Fab Five Freddy and photograph by Ahearn – 

And Heroin Kills, 1981 by Dondi Zephyr Charlie A.

Wild Style can be downloaded easily and includes footage of many of the players that I describe in my East Village sections of the book – including Fab Five Freddy himself and the Fun Gallery's fabulously glam Patti Astor.

Listen to Ahearn describe the art world/ street vibe overlap back in those dark days of New York City's economic and social low point at: