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SoHo: The Rise and Fall of an Artist's Colony

SoHo: The Rise and Fall of an Artist's Colony

by Richard Kostelanetz

Soho: The Rise and Fall documents how a little-known industrial neighborhood in New York became, through one of the accidents of history, a nexus of creative activity for a brief but intensive period. Such an ideal situation—entirely unplanned—could not last forever; the author shows how market forces squeezed out this art utopia, to be


Soho: The Rise and Fall documents how a little-known industrial neighborhood in New York became, through one of the accidents of history, a nexus of creative activity for a brief but intensive period. Such an ideal situation—entirely unplanned—could not last forever; the author shows how market forces squeezed out this art utopia, to be replaced by a shadow of its former self.

Editorial Reviews

The New York Times
Richard Kostelanetz documents the ragged, experimental atmosphere of SoHo -- the industrial district South of Houston Street -- in its heyday as the center of New York's art world. Once a neighborhood of neglected, century-old cast-iron factories and warehouses, SoHo in the late 1960's and early 70's was discovered and transformed by free-spirited artists drawn to its open spaces and low rents. Kostelanetz, an avant-garde writer, visual artist, critic, poet and composer (among other things) was a longtime resident and acquaintance to many of the artists, musicians and performers in the area. A hermetic student of downtown culture, Kostelanetz would seem SoHo's perfect idiosyncratic historian. — Glyn Vincent
Publishers Weekly
The transformation of a few Manhattan blocks South of Houston into an epicenter of contemporary art during the '60s and '70s is the subject of artist, critic and anthologist Kostelanetz's brisk memoir, rich in vivid street-level detail and evoking a time that now looks like something of a golden age. While forgivably nostalgic, Kostelanetz (Crimes of Culture) is otherwise evenhanded and thorough, describing not only the multifarious activities in which he was involved but through them the lives and work of such luminaries as theatrical conceptualists Robert Wilson and Richard Foreman, photographers Hannah Wilke and Cindy Sherman, "protean polyartist" Meredith Monk and musicians Philip Glass and Sonic Youth, to name but a few. But the book's major contribution is its meticulous recounting of the unprecedented confluence of gray-area zoning and occupancy laws coupled with sheer pioneering spirit that led to the area's development in the first place. Without government assistance and for years flying under the radar of rapacious developers-and without displacing a resident population, for there was none-hardy souls like Kostelanetz and Twyla Tharp stealthily moved into the vast lofts above garment warehouses in search of creative space, quite unaware of the revolution in urban style they were creating. Photographs, notes and an extensive bibliography fill things out terrifically. Like the neighborhood it describes, Kostelanetz's cheerfully episodic book is full of odd corners, secret alleys and sudden vistas. (June) Forecast: This will be this summer's nostalgic beach read for anyone even remotely involved with the international art world. Following that spike, look for long-term sales on campus and as a steady history lesson for young artists-long-term overseas sales should be even better. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Long before being featured on tourist maps and before upscale retail establishments such as Prada gained a foothold, New York City's SoHo was a pioneering artists' enclave, its grim industrial buildings offering spacious, decently priced working and living quarters for a whole wave of the avant-garde. Artist and author Kostelanetz writes with firsthand knowledge of the place and its people, tracing SoHo from its heyday as an eclectic center of artistic expression in the 1970s to its discovery by the mainstream and subsequent transformation into the pricey world of chic. The chapters that focus on Nam June Paik, Meredith Monk, Richard Foreman, and other such pivotal figures offer the book's best insights into the essence of the SoHo phenomenon. However, there is plenty of detailed description throughout about everything from startling sculpture and performance art and the design of offbeat lofts (including the author's own space, called Wordship) to the complicated mechanics of funding and the protocol of garbage scavenging. Of particular interest to artists and New York City buffs, this savvy little history should also be appealing to those intrigued by the sociology of counterculture and the traditions of avant-garde art. For circulating libraries.-Carol J. Binkowski, Bloomfield, NJ Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A lucid, engaging "panoramic essay" about the artsy New York neighborhood now overrun by upscale shops and bohemian wannabes. New York’s SoHo, not to be confused with London’s similarly-named Soho neighborhood, is an acronym for South of Houston (pronounced HOW-stun) Street, a major east-west thoroughfare in lower Manhattan. The area’s first incarnation in the 1840s was as a fashionable shopping district, an identity to which it has recently returned; many of its ubiquitous cast-iron facades date from that period. A SoHo pioneer, Kostelanetz offers cogent and humorous observations on its famous and not-so-famous denizens, from composer Philip Glass to real-estate speculator and "founder" George Maciunas. He goes on to outline the melange of conditions that serendipitously engendered and then fostered this community of artists beginning in the early 1960s, when it was still an industrial slum "clogged with trucks and truckers." The author recounts his own parallel history from uptown academic to downtown hipster, providing insights into the fortuitous circumstances that led to SoHo’s astonishing revival completely outside the more contrived large-scale efforts of urban renewal advocates. Kostelanetz offers several reasons for the neighborhood’s successful gentrification by artists, art-lovers, and the first gallery owners, among them the quantity of cheap commercial space, city tax abatements, and the relaxation of building codes that permitted artists to live legally in lofts. Beyond these sociological and economic underpinnings, however, he provides an array of anecdotes that convey the true flavor of SoHo during that era, from a course in freight-elevator etiquette to a description ofmining Dumpsters for furniture and art supplies. By the 1990s, newcomers outnumbered veterans, and the artists and writers of SoHo, Kostelanetz among them, dispersed into the urban landscape. An uncommon guide and an enjoyable countercultural and personal history.

Product Details

Taylor & Francis
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.75(d)

Meet the Author

Richard Kostelanetz is a critic and literary artist. He moved to SoHo just as it was being developed by the underground arts community, and his home-apply named WordShip-has become one of the most famous loft/work space environments of the city. He is the author of over 40 original books as well as 40 edited volumes. He lives in New York City.

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