Coenties Slip Artist Lofts(from Pearl Street to South Street), mid-1950s through the mid-1960s

This site is included in LMCC’s Creative Insider’s Guide to Lower Manhattan, sponsored by Launch LM.

The abandoned sail lofts along the East River in Lower Manhattan provided ideal studio spaces for young artists Robert Indiana, Ellsworth Kelly, Agnes Martin, and James Rosenquist beginning in the mid-1950s. Other notable artists who worked within the community included Fred Mitchell, Charles Hinman, Jack Youngerman, Lenore Tawney, and Ann Wilson. At the time, the Coenties Slip functioned as a space apart from the energy of the prevailing Abstract Expressionist movement and its association with the East Village and Cedar Bar, a favorite haunt of Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning. Brought together more as a result of geographic proximity than the nature of their work, the group of artists who created at Coenties Slip were among the first to take an interest in living and making art in repurposed industrial spaces.

Ellsworth Kelly moved into the top floor of 3–5 Coenties Slip in 1956 as a result of conversations with fellow artist Fred Mitchell. In 1958, Agnes Martin moved into 3–5 Coenties Slip as well, beginning her exploration of perspective geometry, transcendentalism and abstraction shortly thereafter. Though the abstract nature of both Kelly and Martin’s work resists explicit site-specific influence, the artists’ move to the slip coincided with developments in their work’s form as well as a significant positive shift in the trajectory of their careers. In 1960, James Rosenquist moved into Martin’s studio when she moved out. The loft-like expanse of the space (which he shared with Charles Hinman) afforded Rosenquist the ability to push the scale of his practice; within years of his move to the slip, Rosenquist created many of the large-scale, multi-piece Pop murals for which he is best-known.

In 1956, Robert Indiana moved into the top floor studio loft left open by Fred Mitchell at 31 Coenties Slip, a vacancy he learned about through Ellsworth Kelly. Indiana later spoke to the proximate influence of Kelly’s practice on his developing awareness of primary colors and hard edges. The forms of Indiana’s paintings bear the most direct influence of the sights and materials of the slip; for instance, Indiana’s The Sweetest Mystery, 1960–61 (recently included in his retrospective Robert Indiana: Beyond LOVE at the Whitney) depicts four leaves of the ginkgo tree variety that abounded in Coenties Slip’s Jeanette Park. Indiana was the last of this group to leave the slip, staying at his studio at 25 Coenties Slip from 1957–1965. Indiana once noted “It was no. 25, its entire façade emblazoned with words, that daily confronted me with the format my work would assume. Not only that, but every ship that passed on the river… carried those marks and legends that set the style of my painting.”*

Back then, nearly every building on the three-block funnel-shaped Coenties Slip had a view of the East River as a result of the angled arrangement of the streets. During the mid-1960s, a large portion of Coenties Slip was razed to make room for an expanding section of Wall Street high-rises. Yet the funnel-shaped street of Coenties Slip still remains, with the quaint inlet of Coenties Slip Park evoking a time since past when artists flocked to the area as a creative space apart.

– Alex Fialho

 

*Indiana Kelly Martin Rosenquist Youngerman At Coenties Slip: [exhibition] January 16–February 13, 1993, New York: Pace Gallery, 1993, p. 12.