Recap: Reliving Fashion Moda and the FUN Gallery at City Lore

Posted on: June 25th, 2014 at 10:02 am by

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Left to right: Stefan Eins, Jane Dickson, Patti Astor (standing), Crash. Photo: Lori Greenberg.

Long before street art was a respected genre, graffiti was considered a scourge on the city. In the late 70s and early 80s, only a few people had the vision to recognize graffiti as art, creating in the process a now-legendary scene mixing art, photography, film, performance and music.

“Spray Cans in the Gallery: The Legendary Fashion Moda & the Fun Gallery,” featured some of those people in a panel discussion, looking at the past, present and future of street art.

Part of the “Moving Murals” program at City Lore, the talk included a mix of artists, photographers and curators who were involved in creating the golden age of graffiti at two pivotal art spaces of the era: Fashion Moda in the South Bronx and the FUN Gallery in the East Village.

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Lisa Kahane. Photo: Lori Greenberg.

Photographer Lisa Kahane kicked off the event with a slideshow of her work from the 70s and early 80s, including many images of the scene from Fashion Moda. Some of the artists included were Daze, Crash, Judy Rifka, Jenny Holzer and Lady Pink, along with Isaac Jackson, who used to broadcast his WBAI radio show from the basement of the gallery.

Moderated by folklorist Elena Martínez, the panel following Kahane included Patti Astor of the FUN Gallery, artist Jane Dickson, Stefan Eins of Fashion Moda, and graffiti writer Crash, aka John Matos.

Eins, founder of Fashion Moda, was the first speaker on the panel. Part of the 1970s and 80s artist group Colab, Eins opened Fashion Moda in 1978 to ask the questions “What is art?” and “Who defines it?” Fashion Moda lasted until 1993, though as Eins said, “it continues in concept.”

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Martha Cooper (check out her cool camera earrings). Photo: Lori Greenberg.

Photographer Martha Cooper was then introduced and narrated a slideshow of her work. When Cooper got to her images of the FUN Gallery, she and founder Patti Astor became animated, comparing their memories of the gallery. Crash also chimed in with stories, and the atmosphere started to feel more like a great dinner party than a panel discussion. (No surprise to this reporter, who fondly remembers the festive party atmosphere at the FUN Gallery openings) It wasn’t all joyous remembrances, though. At many points during the slideshow, the panelists emotionally acknowledged and paid tribute to many artists who were lost to AIDS.

The FUN Gallery began as a tiny basement storefront at 225 East 11th Street in New York City’s East Village in 1981. It then moved to a slightly less confined location at 254 East 10th Street, but closed in 1985. Astor, who had been an underground film star (best known for her lead role in Wild Style), showed work by Fab 5 Freddy, LEE (Quinones), Zephyr, Dondi, Lady Pink and Futura 2000. Astor also gave important shows to Kenny Scharf, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring, among others. (Did we mention that the opening parties were incredibly, well, fun?)

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Martha Cooper (right) presents an image from a FUN Gallery opening. Photo: Lori Greenberg.

Astor and Crash recalled Kenny Scharf painting the phone in the gallery, and Keith Haring painting directly on all of the walls for his show. “Keith painted on pieces of raw leather,” according to Crash. “He painted on anything he could find.”

Crash and Astor reminisced that Haring never stopped creating art. After painting the entire gallery for one of his shows, he wound up outside in the winter and, according to Crash, “started tagging the snow.”

Astor added that the gallery was “a cross section of different artists, sharing techniques. Kenny Scharf learned to spray paint from graffiti artists, and everyone shared each others’ paints and tools and techniques.”

Artist Jane Dickson wrapped up the slideshow with images of her work. Dickson, who was also part of Colab, broke ground by having one-woman shows at both Fashion Moda and the FUN Gallery. (One-woman shows were not exactly common at the time.) Fun fact: Dickson is also married to Charlie Ahearn, director of Wild Style, making them a bit of a “royal couple” in this world.

Dickson said that the two galleries were groundbreaking for the era, being “uptown/downtown, gay/straight, black/white/Asian/Latino.” Astor added that they all used to go to openings in Soho at the time, and “it was white wine, white walls and white people. It was just not very interesting.”

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Jane Dickson in front of a photo of her “City Maze.” Photo: Lori Greenberg.

Dickson was also known for creating “the City Maze” at Fashion Moda. Constructed of cardboard boxes, the maze allowed South Bronx kids to come into the art space and paint all over the cardboard. Eins fondly remembered that some of the kids tried to break into Fashion Moda just so they could draw on the maze after hours.

When asked by Martinez if this scene could ever happen again, Crash responded, “it was the perfect storm at the perfect time.”

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Patti Astor, with a copy of her book “FUN Gallery…the true story.” Photo: Lori Greenberg.

After the talk, Astor signed copies of her new book, FUN Gallery…the true story. The party was still going when we left. As it should be.

Moving Murals: Henry Chalfant & Martha Cooper’s All-City Graffiti Archive runs until July 10th at the City Lore Gallery.
You can buy a copy of Patti Astor’s book here.

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