Douglas Davis, The World’s First Collaborative Sentence (detail), 1994.
DOUGLAS DAVIS was an artist, art critic, and teacher whose work with a remarkable variety of mediums—including video, television, performance, and later, the Internet—was prescient in its consideration of the social relationship between people and technology. I didn’t know him personally, but I’ve been told that he was a bit of a dreamer in the day-to-day—a visionary, even. He must have been, since he observed in his art—and equally, if not more perceptively, in his writing—the subtle shifts in public behavior around television that would come to inform the complex (if not outright ambivalent) personal relationships that most of us have with digital technologies today. Tinged with an almost mystical sense of optimism tempered by the counterculture of his day, Davis’s particular brand of wide-eyed intellectual openness positioned him perfectly as an early adopter of the Internet, a space whose potential as a social and artistic medium he clearly recognized.
Davis is perhaps most famously remembered for co-organizing, with Nam June Paik and Joseph Beuys, a then-unprecedented live telecast of performance-art pieces that were broadcast to twenty-five countries as part of Documenta 6. In his personal contribution to the project, a video titled The Last Nine Minutes, a youthful, T-shirted Davis appears to be trapped inside a television set, pressing his palms and banging his fists against its glass in an attempt to . . . what? Communicate with the pair of hands on the other side of the glass—presumably, the viewers’—that press against his own? Call for help? In Write With Me on Your TV Screen, another work made a few years later, in 1979, Davis, presumably trapped inside his television (yet again!), scrawls the simple command of the title in reverse, to ensure its legibility to the viewer.
Davis’s video works were exceptionally earnest in tone. Yet in watching him inscribe relationships between his own body, the screen, and some other, imagined viewer, we can still see that for Davis, television (and later, the Internet) wasn’t simply a vehicle for passive consumption, even if it is perennially and all too easily dismissed as such. He described the “exhilaration” he felt, as an artist, while acting live: “To know that the moment the camera turns on is the moment of record or of broadcast is to experience a heightened reality, to perform at another level.”
Some of the real poignancy—and foresight, for that matter—of Davis’s work may be seen and felt in the way he negotiated with language. He effectively predicted the social Web to come, after all, with The World’s First Collaborative Sentence, an interactive work made in 1994 for the then-nascent World Wide Web and acquired the following year by the Whitney Museum of American Art through a donation by the work’s first owners, Barbara and the late Eugene M. Schwartz. The Sentence is perhaps best considered as a functional, interactive expression of Davis’s keen social observations. Users—the first were visitors to Lehman College Art Gallery, in the Bronx, where the piece was shown in 1994 as part of “InterActions,” a survey of Davis’s work—were invited to add their own texts, images, and sound files to an online “performance” of a never-ending stream of consciousness: The project’s only rule was that each user’s contribution could not end with a period.
As a Web-based project exhibited in several galleries over the course of time—in 1995, the piece was installed in the Gwangju Biennale, as well as the School of Visual Arts’ “Digital Salon” exhibition, which toured internationally; in 1999 it was exhibited at the Zentrum für Kunst und Medientechnologie in Karlsruhe, Germany, as part of the exhibition “net.condition”—the effect of the (very real) physical relationship between people and the Web can be felt in the polyvalent nature of its contributions. In 2013, the Whitney executed a preservation project around the work, effectively saving it from digital demise while preserving its original interface, designed by Davis, and allowing for new user contributions. This interface invited users to interact with the Web in a way that blogs and social-media platforms would beg—nay, demand—years later. The Sentence has effectively invited users to write what now, in 2014, amounts to an ungodly number of Web pages devoted to the inner musings of thousands of people; produced collaboratively but read as an endless stream of consciousness, the work both imitates and challenges the solipsism of the social Web as we now know it. It is comforting—satisfying even—to place Davis and his work in historical post-mortem terms, given the series of rapid technological developments that marked the decades in which he lived, worked, wrote, and taught. The Sentence, it turns out, was likely the first known work of Net art, a genre whose ephemeral and yet incredibly specific nature continues to trouble the art world’s market-driven sensibilities.
Identifying “firsts” is a standard art-historical practice—a means of manufacturing value through precedence; it’s one way academics and institutions lay claim to artists. And considering the practice of historical claim-laying can be productive here, if we recall just how radical the domestic arrival of the Internet during the 1990s really felt as a social phenomenon—how enormously novel it truly was to build communities of shared interest by interacting with other, unknown people in other, unknown places through a computer. On the 2.0 (and now, post-2.0) social Web, however, to “call firsts” is to lay a different kind of historical claim: The phrase describes the practice of bragging loudly online that one was the first to react or to serve as the original source for a piece of information that gained subsequent digital traction. A social byproduct of the intersection of digital technology with late capitalism, “calling firsts” reeks of frantic editorial desperation, smacking of a desire claim supreme and unassailable ownership over shared experience—over time, even.
Everything arrives at once in the great and terrifying enterprise that is today’s Internet: I believe that Douglas Davis and his Sentence in particular are best remembered as agents in a messy, unwieldy digital emergence that can’t be fully known or understood. Davis came before “firsts”—but he also didn’t need them.
Sarah Hromack is a writer based in Brooklyn, New York. She works as the director of digital media at the Whitney Museum of American Art and teaches in the department of art and art professions at New York University’s Steinhardt School.
Douglas Davis, The World’s First Collaborative Sentence, 1994.
DOUGLAS DAVIS, critical and theoretical writer, teacher, and media artist, died in relative obscurity this past winter. No museum organized a memorial exhibition, and while a few obits appeared, the art world did not make much fuss. Yet Davis deserves to be celebrated for a life devoted to challenging many of the assumptions and attitudes that still hamper our understanding of the times in which we live. Technology was the focus of Davis’s work as an artist and as an art and architecture critic. His fundamental concerns were not, as his friend and collaborator Nam June Paik often said, with the problem of our understanding of technology per se, but rather with how we can come to grips with the impact that technology has had upon individual consciousness and social relationships.
I first met Davis in 1971 when I was a (very) young curator of video art—a unique title at the time—in the Jim Harithas era of the Everson Museum in Syracuse, New York. Davis was one of the circle of artists, writers, and assorted characters that followed Harithas to Syracuse after Jim resigned his directorship at the Corcoran Gallery after a fight with its notorious board of trustees. At the time, Douglas was both art critic for then-highly-influential Newsweek magazine and an artist exploring the potential of television as a creative medium. This dual role made him both widely envied and widely suspected of playing both sides, using his role as a critic to promote his own art and that of his peers. But Davis ignored his critics and in fact helped to establish the idea that artists could also assume the role of media activists, by publishing his ideas about the future of video and the media culture in Radical Software. In those days, Davis lived at 80 Wooster Street in the building organized by SoHo loft pioneer and Fluxus master George Maciunas. The first-floor tenant was Jonas Mekas and the Anthology Film Archive. Fertile ground.
Davis was devoted to applying his reading of Walter Benjamin (especially Benjamin’s perennially relevant essay “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction”) to what Paik termed “cybernetic times.” How were we to define what constituted a work of art in this new age, and what would the artist’s job be? He focused on what was lost and was gained as the notion of mass media was inverted or transformed in ways that are now still not fully understood: Could the human touch survive, for example, in an era of bits and bytes? And finally, he asked how artists could challenge and transform the institutional infrastructure—including the actual architecture, as well as operating assumptions of industries ranging from art museums to universities and publishing houses.
One of Davis’s first works that truly impressed me and still does is Backwards TV, 1971, perhaps his simplest. It consisted of a standard television set turned close to the wall, tuned to no channel, and emitting the blue-white light of video snow. The ghostly glow that surrounded the TV was more than just beautiful; it constituted a direct rebuff to the idea that content rather than structure lay at the base of our understanding of new media. Like Paik, Davis believed that the one-way notion of commercial television and radio (the condition Brecht described in his 1939 “Theory of Radio”) was the core of the problem. And his major contributions were an attempt to entice viewers to abandon their role as passive receivers of one-way communication and to insist upon their right to write as well as read.
From his 1971 interactive-performance video work Electronic Hokkadim, in which actions of audience members were integrated into a broadcast program, to his 1977 Documenta 6 collaboration with Paik and Joseph Beuys (a live international satellite-telecast performance), to his extraordinary Internet project of 1994, The World’s First Collaborative Sentence, Davis remained fixed on the idea of interactivity. In the Documenta piece, Davis placed his hands on the inside of the television screen and invited viewers to place their hands on his from the outside, creating a virtual union. In The World’s First Collaborative Sentence, a work in the collection of the Whitney Museum of American Art (and still functioning online), Davis initiated a text to which thousands of other individuals have continued to append their own thoughts. It remains an interactive piece that may never be finished.
As both an artist and critic, Davis realized and actively celebrated the impending blurring of the difference between writers and readers. He took pleasure in the idea of a new kind of communion implied by new media technologies. He was also openly willing to accept changing notions of authority and promoted the idea that ownership of information was inherently antidemocratic. In other words, Davis had the courage to acknowledge and engage a new art world—one not defined by the marketplace, but rather as a continuous global conversation in which he was simply one participant. His life and work are worth remembering.
David A. Ross is the former director of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, and the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston. He currently chairs the MFA in art practice at the School of Visual Arts, New York, and performs with the band RED.
Douglas Davis, The Last Nine Minutes, 1977, still from the live performance for the international satellite telecast at Documenta 6.
DOUGLAS DAVIS believed in the power of communication. If we would only talk to each other, we could not possibly misunderstand each other: If we could collaboratively communicate—the intriguing possibility offered by his famous work The World’s First Collaborative Sentence, “written” in 1994—we would cure all ills. Davis was an indefatigable optimist, globalist, and idealist, a true believer in the power of the media to unite us, to forge enduring links between seemingly unlinkable individuals—even those with little in common beyond the fact that they could all instantly communicate by way of amazing technology. I remember our “collaborations”: his nonstop, manic talking and my serious silence, taking it all in, nodding in agreement—when I could get a nod in. Sometimes his wife, Jane, would join, compounding my silent listening.
To call Davis a Conceptual artist sells his talents and enthusiasm short: Like Joseph Beuys, whom we both knew and admired, he thought of art as a way of breaking down the “many walls between you and me,” as Beuys had said, alluding to his 1964 “project” to “Disarm the [Berlin] Wall immediately.” Thus, in a pioneering media project—to think of it as the then-newest, trendiest example of so-called experimental art is again to sell its expressive power and social prescience short—Davis, Beuys, and Nam June Paik collaborated on a series of “performances” for Documenta 6 (1977). They were broadcast via satellite to twenty-five countries before satellite communication became standard.
The desperation in the “presentation” Davis contributed to this project—viewers saw him staring into the television while pressing his hands against the screen as though about to break through the wall it represented in a futile attempt to grasp the viewer—suggests that he believed that art was “fundamentally psychological,” as Beuys said. Davis was deeply indebted to Beuys, who believed that art was a way of “warming” the “cold” spectator, thus bringing him or her to life. Beuys’s “shock and awe” tactic was a crucial feature of his spectacle art, but it was meant to shock the participating spectator into awed awareness of “the spiritual crises” inevitable in life, and thus to work them through. Beuys called his early performances “psychoanalytic actions,” and indeed, they were a kind of group therapy, implicitly rooted in object relations and attachment theory. The Davis I knew always seemed to be in some sort of spiritual crisis, awing you with the intelligence with which he worked it through. And he thought anything could be worked in this way if we could all seriously connect, becoming deeply attached to each other, thus solving both our relational problems once and for all. But sometimes the intensity with which he sought to engage you—the sheer velocity at which he came at you—caused you to back away, leaving you in a state of shocked self-consciousness, which no doubt made you feel as alive as he did. It certainly stunned me to attention. Our relationship always had a “transformative” effect on me; perhaps it also did on him, although he always seemed fully formed, full of himself, and obsessively focused on his thoughts and work, with a sort of monomaniacal brilliance.
The Collaborative Sentence began “I did not feel separated I felt very close even though we were thousands of miles apart.” The “thousands of miles” suggests that the closeness was more wishful and illusory than real and significant, self-deceptive rather self-fulfilling, accidental and transient rather than a marriage of “elective affinities.” Davis’s separation anxiety was paradoxically conveyed by his desire to establish a global utopia of kindred spirits—but the two hundred thousand strangers who added to the sentence were not exactly close friends, and certainly didn’t know each other (the “community” they formed was “abstract,” like the media that mediated their relationship). Their sheer number suggests that he also felt like a stranger, and was self-estranged, which is why he had to compulsively and repeatedly reach out to connect through the media in “blind dates” with the viewer.
Donald Kuspit is an art critic and professor of art history and philosophy at the State University of New York at Stony Brook.
I MET HUDSON through Tony Tasset when I was in graduate school in Chicago. Tony was one of my professors and showed with Hudson at his gallery called Feature Inc. After I graduated, Hudson was my main gallerist for fifteen years. He was a teacher, a friend, and I evolved with him in consciousness through my artwork and our friendship.
Hudson: I miss him. But he is in a better place now, adding his large and beautiful consciousness to the cosmos.
Now that Hudson is gone, we can all reflect on what a thoughtful, integral person he was.
Hudson who was Feature. His gallery was a venue for a fluid exchange of ideas. It was music, video, philosophy, pseudo-science, literature, dance, theater.
Hudson gave life to subtlety.
He understood the development of an artist and their vision. He could see so clearly the evolution of consciousness of an artist, and he knew how to push the work to the next level.
Hudson represented many artists who are now without a gallery. I hope other galleries will try to understand Hudson’s love of these artists, and help them find a good home. I hope they find gallerists that can cull Hudson’s vision into their future work. Hudson’s work can continue in this way. It is now our responsibility to learn from Hudson, and carry on his vision.
Hudson was the most authentic person I have ever met. He was also one of the most dignified people I have ever met. I have watched him over the years handle difficult decisions with integrity and grace.
I will miss him.
Tom Friedman is an artist based in Leverett, Massachusetts.
“THE END OF AN ERA.” That’s the common reaction when someone or something significant is lost—a historic train station that should have been landmarked and was ingloriously torn down, a person who embodied a higher standard to which we all might aspire. Here in New York, as possibly nowhere else, a certain class of people has much in common with the plastic-fantastic buildings they inhabit. They physically and philosophically block the view, a view to which we may have opened their eyes. Some of them enliven and decorate their lives with art, though just how many acquired any of it from the art dealer known simply as Hudson is open to debate. His gallery, Feature Inc., was tremendously loved and respected, though mostly by artists, critics, and a few curators—by those who are unable to keep galleries afloat even when the tide is high. And when levels rise due to art global warming, isn’t it just a bigger sea of mediocrity? How can you swim against the rising tide and not end up drowning?
And what of the fact that you would acknowledge a major passage by dressing down the world departed? This was not Hudson’s style. At least not openly. For the rest of us mere mortals, it’s almost impossible to be immune to that bitter pill, as a world we once knew, a world of art and ideas, slowly but surely disappears. Hudson, if he could hear this now, in his ever-enlightened positivity, would certainly have countered: As one part of the universe contracts, another is expanding. This is surely key to the vision that guided him—which he offered to us freely. And vision, at least among certain bold-faced dealers, jet-setting collectors, consultants, and newly minted art stars, is in seriously short supply. These days, in modern life we perpetually encounter “the end of an era” which already ended long ago.
As a means to sort out my own conflicted position and to consider this passing with the immediacy and honesty of its emotion, I went back to mails sent and received between February 12 and 17, not all recipients and responders identified, and in an entirely instinctive rather than exact temporal order—a Hudson lesson to be sure.
Even if 50 new galleries opened next week, they wouldn’t begin to fill the space that Hudson leaves behind. Primarily, I suppose, because at least 49 of those galleries would be opened to make piles and piles of money.
48 of them wouldn’t know what to show,
47 of them wouldn’t know how to talk about what they show,
46 of them would plan art fairs first, and exhibitions as . . . an afterthought,
45 of them would be mean to their staff and not provide them with health insurance,
44 of them . . .
well, you get the picture.
First walked into the gallery in ’87 when he was still in Chicago. There was, as I recall, a Jeff Koons “Equilibrium” tank, a Richard Prince photo, a Sherrie Levine stripe painting, a Kay Rosen word piece and something by Charlie Ray in the office. Was happy a year later when he moved to New York, and then of course the program shifted, as it had to.
One of the many things I learned from him is acceptance.
I learned a lot from him about art, but equally about being a person.
They really are interwoven, even if the art “world,” in scare quotes, wants to keep them apart, separate people from what they do, make them part with their work,
then they possess the art and, to some extent, possess the artist.
This is not the kind of negativity that Huds would endorse,
and I feel somewhat guilty for going there.
My philosophy about what's important—and what's not—wouldn’t have evolved without him.
To which Jeff Davis responded:
art awe but personhood awe more than anything.
i always felt like he knew something i didn’t know and wanted to know.
Someone once asked, “You followed that gallery and its artists for so long, how is it that you never organized a show at Feature?” And I said, “Because Hudson was his own curator. I couldn’t have been helpful in that way. Over the years I was influenced by him much more than by so-called professional curators. His show titles alone set free association rampant, from the ridiculous to the sublime: “Itsy Bitsy Spider,” “Hairy Forearm’s Self-Referral,” “I Gaze a Gazely Stare,” “Let the great constellation of flickering ashes be heard.”
And then all those that were libidinally charged, without presenting anything unfaithful to a pure, promiscuous quest to be free—even Tom of Finland’s priapic libertines. On the contrary, Hudson linked visual and sensual pleasure on the level of the spiritual, and in this respect these shows were politicized, envisioning a world where energies as diverse as muscle-bound hunks and devotional Tantric drawings would join forces for an even greater liberation movement. It’s all in the mind. A show in Chicago in ’87 was called “Head Sex,” and the one that had the greatest impact on me personally, “Trouble Over So Much Skin,” in New York in ’92. Quite the rejoinder to an opportunistic virus known as the Republican “culture wars.” All of these shows were done in the summer, when it was steamy and people bared more of their bodies than at any other time of the year. There was, most notoriously, “i want that inside me,” last year. Despite the title, the work he chose was meditative and abstract. In 2011 the text he wrote for, “I AM NOT MONOGAMOUS, I HEART POETRY,” concluded: “let the body be the barometer.”
It makes me think of those clueless collectors whose first question is inevitably: “So tell me, who’s hot right now?”
An email came with an amazing picture of a very young Hudson, with hair and laughing ecstatically. This was posted online by his old friend Steve Lafreniere, and he provided the story behind the buoyancy:
Hudson took a road trip by himself from the East Coast to California in 1969. He scored some acid in Colorado, dropped, and by the time he hit the Rockies he was too high to drive. So he pulled over, climbed up the mountain, and took this timer photo of himself “watching the entire planet disintegrate,” as he always told it. Pure joy that it was.
Planning to write a tribute. After hearing that he sold pot brownies at an art fair I thought it might be called:
“Suppose They Gave An Art Fair And Everybody Got Stoned?”
My conclusion is that people would actually look at the art, spend time with it, and in an unguarded way share their ideas with others. Their excitement for what they were seeing would be infectious.
Lisa Beck, then offered, appropriately enough on Valentine’s Day:
it was at the Independent. Sam Gordon made cookies with weed in them.
All the fairs that are coming up, they should all be dedicated to Hudson.
every booth empty. big bowl of LSD-laced punch and a plate of pot brownies in the middle of the room.
see the art inside your head.
love one another.
The next day she wrote back:
To which I could only respond:
You could tell him, but he would surely correct you.
Bob Nickas is a critic based in New York.
Johnny Pixchure, Painting Sextext, 1986, oil on canvas, 9 x 12”.
THERE WERE CERTAINLY TIMES when Hudson and I didn’t love each other, but I can’t remember them. They are subsumed into thirty years of good memories: ten as artist-dealer and twenty as friends. He supported me in so many kind ways, even after we stopped working together in 1994. There are many people to whom one owes debts of gratitude during their life, but Hudson was one of the most, if not the most, important person in my artistic life. As an outsider to the art world from the language world, I knew no one and nothing and lived in the middle of nowhere, so his support and the art community around Feature Inc. in Chicago and in New York was a godsend. It all began with him, and fortunately I was able to express that to him recently.
The one thing that stands out for me about Hudson, besides the many distinctive qualities that many have acknowledged in tributes to him, was the joy he took in art. There were aspects of the art world that were not so enjoyable to him (and we know what those were), but the single-minded passion he had for art and for sharing it with others brought him great fulfillment. Running a gallery was the perfect career for Hudson. He was able to discover and share art and make a living doing so. He generously shared with the public in ways that went beyond Feature’s exhibitions: through the many off-site shows he curated throughout the years; through events he hosted; through his “Power to the People” in 2010, an event that began as a benefit for the gallery and ended with Hudson giving away hundreds of free artworks to the public; through publications like Farm and A Picture Is a Picture, the gorgeous two-hundred-and-forty-page book that he published in 2006; through connections he made between people; and through ideas he spread. It comforts me that he lived his life with that single-minded purpose, experienced that joy, and succeeded.
Hudson had thirty years to make his case and a splendid case he made. I’m sure there’s a big book to be written about Hudson and Feature Inc.—his archives are probably meticulous. The excitement he felt for art, which he quietly but energetically generated, served the art world well. In 1986 Hudson mischievously made a series of nine-by-twelve-inch paintings on canvas under the moniker Johnny Pixchure. I was the lucky recipient of one titled Painting Sextext and it has been hanging on my wall for twenty-eight years. On a yellow and blue abstract background he painted the text that reads:
By the time for Steve’s turn,
just about everyone had tented
trousers, especially when he began displaying his fabulous
Hudson was Steve and he turned us on.
Kay Rosen is an artist based in the Midwest.
Hudson. Photo: Ann Bobco.
HUDSON, a legend of the art world, is no longer with us.
A friend sent an email recently and asked, “Do you think he had any idea how much and how many people loved him?”
The list of artists and writers he discovered and worked with is long. I will leave it to the history books to tell that story. Here and now I am trying to chronicle some of the remarkable things about Hudson as a person. He started out as an artist (painting and performance art) and a dancer, and he continued to make visual art from time to time under the pseudonym Johnny Pixchure. As an extremely visual and sensual person, he clearly thought about every detail of his appearance, the food he ate, the furnishings in his gallery, and the way he moved through the world. He respected hard work and was such an example to many of us in his willingness to participate in every aspect of his life’s maintenance, be it scrubbing the toilets himself or making his own lunches daily. His gallery, Feature Inc.,was a meticulous creation, carefully controlled in spite of aspects that might have seemed casual or unmediated. For instance, his insistence on keeping his “office” out in the open was critical both for the sense of openness it conveyed and the control it afforded him as gatekeeper.
The first time Hudson came to my studio was in 1986. He had on jeans, a white T-shirt, a black leather jacket, and he had a shaved head. Nowadays, a shaved head on a man is a classic style, but back then it was unusual. He looked intently at the artwork. Neither of us said anything for quite a while—I came to know that silence as a very important part of his processing. Finally, he made a comment, I can’t remember exactly what, but it signaled his strong interest in the work and the beginning of our relationship.
The shaved head remained for as long as I knew him, but was accompanied by an ever-changing array of inventive facial-hair combinations. The jeans and white T-shirt also remained a uniform until the T-shirts became colored and expanded into an enormous collection decorated with text and imagery. Hudson even designed his own T-shirt, an orange one with the words HELP OTHERS printed very small on the front. The back had a vertical stack of fascinating found-logotype imagery. Later, the T-shirts gave way to his beloved Alpana Bawa shirts. It was always a treat to see him in those gorgeous shirts with their amazing colors, patterns, and embroidery. On cold days, he would wear unusual hats and coats.
Even though to many of us Hudson loomed larger than life, he was the first to admit how very human he was. He knew he was full of contradictions. I know that because he was often so up front about telling me things. At the same time he could be very mysterious. He loved having a lot of people around, but could also be very reclusive. There were times he would be sweet and jokey and then at other times very cold and blunt. When I would go into Feature, and he was at his perennial perch at his very public desk (no back to the chair), I would ask him how he was. The answer would never be “Fine,” like so many of us might automatically say. He would tell you how he really was. “I’m doing great!” or “Mm. Not having a good day.” His response would never be a complaint, just honesty. If he wasn’t having a good day he might say something like, “Tomorrow should be better.”
Sometimes we had long, hilariously liberating laughing sessions filled with Monty Python–like craziness. I remember a discussion of electrolyte imbalance where the words morphed into Electrolux vacuum cleaners. Who knows what it was about some of those conversations that made us laugh so hard? He loved language, hence his support and interest in certain writers. He was a really strong writer himself, as exemplified by perceptive and clear statements about his artists’ work. Press releases often took the form of interviews he did with the artist, with brilliantly appropriate questions. He also just loved to play with words, and that found its way into memorable emails as well as the names for group shows he curated: “Godhead,” “Sparkalepsy,” “Hairy Forearm’s Self-Referral,” “Running in Flip-Flops,” “Mighty Graphitey,” “ITSY BITSY SPIDER.”
Oh, and music. He loved music too. When he and I met in 1986, we were both fanatic fans of The Smiths. I saw an art performance Hudson did in Chicago in ’86 in which, among other things, he cooked onions while The Smiths’ “I Know It’s Over” played, and then he hoisted himself upside down on a wall where he uncapped two laundry detergent bottles that were attached to the top of the wall on either side of him. Pink liquid spewed out to the floor. Later, through one of the many compilation tapes and CDs he made for friends, I was introduced to the music of Stephin Merritt. I too became a huge fan of The Magnetic Fields and other Merritt projects. But if Hudson wasn’t listening to his music, he wanted absolute quiet.
Right now there are many artists, gallerists, critics, curators, and collectors who are making, exhibiting, writing about, selling and/or buying art for all the right reasons. The pall that hangs over the art world of obscene amounts of money and power and overrated art objects is only part of the picture. Hudson was surely a prime example of an almost impossibly pure form of art dealer. He was true to his vision and principles, yet things didn’t always go so smoothly for him. However, there is an important lesson to be learned here, particularly in relation to those less-than-admirable traits of the current art world. Hudson did things his way and managed to stay in business for thirty years without ever once receiving financial backing from anyone. Running Feature more like an alternative space than a commercial gallery was his delight. “What a loss for us and for the art world, which needs him more than ever right now,” wrote another friend in an email. I remember having a discussion with Hudson years ago (just prior to a show I was to have at Feature) about my art sales, or more precisely, the lack of sales, and he said to me “B., you don’t need to worry about me. Money is not my primary interest.” There was something so direct and unconcerned about the way he said it that we immediately moved on to talk about something else.
His generosity was beyond measure. This is just one example: He published a book some years ago, a Feature publication which he funded himself. It was a fairly large, four-color book that consisted of works by different artists and writers. Many of the artists did not show at Feature. Except for the name of the artist and/or writer accompanying each work (along with website information) there was absolutely no other text: no colophon, no publisher, no title on the cover or inside, and Hudson’s name was nowhere to be seen. The book was given away. That project so represents the way Hudson wanted to bring art to the world.
I have met so many incredible people because of him. What a huge impact he had on my life, a sentiment that would be echoed by many others. Goodbye, Hudson. You will never be forgotten.
B. Wurtz is an artist based in New York.