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The Gowanus Memorial Artyard was a non-profit, artist-organized group that organized massive outdoor and indoor art exhibitions in Gowanus, Brooklyn in New York City in the early 1980s. Founded by artists and curators Michael Keene, Frank Shifreen, and George Moore, the shows featured monumental sculpture parks next to the Gowanus Canal. The two major shows attracted thousands of visitors during their brief runs in 1981 and 1982. The participants artists such as Carl Andre, Andy Warhol-sponsored Keith Haring, Christo, Linda and Terry Jamison, Vito Acconci, Nancy Holt, John Fekner, the controversial Chris Burden, sculptor Jim Nickel, and Fred Wilson.

Group founding

The outside Artyard, in the center is the empty block on the left side of the Gowanus Canal (blue line), directly above the large building adjacent to 9th Street (bottom center), and west of the IND Culver Line viaduct (red line).
The outside Artyard, in the center is the empty block on the left side of the Gowanus Canal (blue line), directly above the large building adjacent to 9th Street (bottom center), and west of the IND Culver Line viaduct (red line).

In 1979 Frank Shifreen, a recent art graduate of Pratt Institute, began hosting open-studio party art shows at his Brooklyn, New York studio apartment. There a variety of local New York artists began to network. His building, which was a nineteenth-century munitions factory at 230 3rd Street in Gowanus, Brooklyn, had over 9,500 square feet, much of it un-rented. Shifreen asked his landlord to periodically use the un-rented space. The building was right next to the extremely polluted Gowanus Canal, was also just two blocks from a five-acre abandoned dump that had been classified as a city-owned "Public Site". At Smith Street and 5th Street, it was filled with weeds, trash middens, and expired auto bodies.

The Monumental Show (1981)

Shifreen teamed up with artists Michael Keene and George Moore to plan an art exhibition using both the empty space in the munitions factory and the public space next door. They enlisted help from the Gowanus Canal Community Development Corporation and Carroll Gardens Association, also receiving a $1500 grant from the Brooklyn Council on the Arts.

Calling themselves the Gowanus Canal Memorial Artyard, they began wheatposting posters throughout the city six months before the show, calling it The Monumental Show. The black-and-white posters were a call for entries, and they received thousands of proposals for live rock music performance and art installations. The organizers selected 150 artists who were each given a 20 by 20 foot space to create their art. The theme of the exhibition was monumental art, which consisted of paintings, sculptures, mixed media, and anything one-and-a-half times normal size. The participants included new talent, as well as established artists such as Carl Andre and Andy Warhol-sponsored Keith Haring.

Gowanus Canal Redefined (1982)

The Monument Redefined was welcomed by much of the local Gowanus, Brooklyn, community. Buddy Scotto and James Albano of the Gowanus Community Development Program contacted the Gowanus Memorial Artyard to offer a sponsorship for an architectural competition. Called The Gowanus Canal Redefined, it was one of the only grassroots contests of its kind. Frank Shifreen and Scott Siken of the Gowanus Memorial Artyard organized and curated the event, selecting proposals for "critical reinterpretations" of the Gowanus Canal. A $1000 prize was to be awarded to the best architectural proposal for revitalizing the Gowanus Canal area. The area, a former industrial zone, was suffering from extreme neglect in the early 1980s. The Canal running through the area is currently dubbed a Super fund site. The area's seawater canal, open park spaces, and close proximity to Manhattan and public transportation were requested to be incorporated into the proposal designs.

The show ran from October 18, 1982, to October 29, 1982, and included participants Todd Ayoung, Dennis Joyce, Stephen Korns, Joe Lewis, Brian McMahon, and Kristin Steen.

Historical significance

The show was one of several mega-shows in the early 1980s. Before the show, the public Times Square Show exhibition had nightly art performances every night for months, and in the two years after that there were several large-scale exhibitions in disused buildings in public locations. One was Ninth Street Survival at an abandoned school on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, as well as the Coney Island Show on a pier at the Coney Island Amusement Park. Several New York artists, including Shifreen and Julius Vitali, have theorized that the East Village, Manhattan art movement in the 1980s may have resulted partly from the artist-organized and not-for-profit shows of the early 1980s, including The Monumental Show and Monument Redefined. The shows made it possible for art galleries and art dealers to find and support emerging artists.

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