I just finished reading Alternative Art New York 1965-1985 edited by Julie Ault, in order to follow up on Gwen Allen's Artists' Magazines: An Alternative Space for Art. Both books are fascinating for documenting how various artists banged their heads against the white cube in an effort to find a way out. Reading the books it remains debatable to me whether these alternative spaces were in fact outside of the art market and whether there is any artistic space or production that cannot be absorbed into today's global economy of information.
Rimbaud, Walser, Roussel, Kafka seem to provide models for an alternative but as David Markson's Reader's Block demonstrates the idea that states of silence, exile, and madness or the act of suicide are the only possibilities for creative freedom in a post-avant garde landscape is pretty bleak indeed.
What is the collector to do with the flotsam and jetsam of the alternative space? It seems to me that it would be worthwhile to gather the postcards, announcements, handbills, stationery, notations, blueprints, diagrams, posters, and other bits of artistic confetti leftover from the party. (Among the other books I have been reading, I just finished a book on Walter Benjamin's Archive.) But this party looks to be already crashed. A signed and unnumbered altered announcement card for "A Work Marjorie Strider / 112 Greene Street / To Nov. 7" sent October 1970 is $750 dollars. The historical account of 112 Greene Street published in 1981 by New York University is around $250. Alternative art spaces in San Francisco and Los Angeles like Ferus Gallery, the Batman Gallery, the Six Gallery and Womanhouse I am sure are getting similar treatment.
To get some fresh air, one will have to head out for the territory. I am out of my element here given that my nose was attracted to the cheese in the San Francisco and New York City mousetrap, but the Detroit Artist Workshop comes to mind. I am sure there were alternative art spaces in Austin, Portland, Seattle, Boston, Cleveland. What were the alternative spaces in the South during the 1960s? I would suspect there is a lot of work to be done in collecting and documenting these scenes.
But maybe to find a true alternative space, if such flora and fauna can still grow in the current climate, we have to go even further out to Main Street. I am thinking of Blair Murphy's Grand Midway Hotel in Windber Pennsylvania, the home of Alan Freed and Johnny Weissmuller. Freed and Weissmuller definitely had their roles in the art of the sellout, but in Windber there seems to be a blurring of art and life (with Beat, silent film, motorcycle, vampire, paranormal and zombie festivals combined with living and art space) without regard to the market. John Fetterman is mayor in nearby Braddock. Jon Beacham's bookstore gallery in Beacon NY comes to mind. Possibly alternative space can take root in the small town. But maybe I am being naive about the true nature of these ventures and betraying a fetish for the pastoral.
In any case, if such an alternative space did exist and flourish, I am sure that a collector like me would quickly take it by the roots, pull it into context, and press it between printed pages.