The never-before-told story of an obscure little street at the lower tip of Manhattan and the remarkable artists who got their start there.
For just over a decade, from 1956 to 1967, a collection of dilapidated former sail-making warehouses clustered at the lower tip of Manhattan became the quiet epicenter of the art world. Coenties Slip, a dead-end street near the water, was home to a circle of wildly talented and varied artists that included Robert Indiana, Ellsworth Kelly, Agnes Martin, James Rosenquist, Delphine Seyrig, Lenore Tawney, and Jack Youngerman. As friends and inspirations to one another, they created a unique community for unbridled creative expression and experimentation, and the works they made at the Slip would go on to change the course of American art.
Now, for the first time, Prudence Peiffer pays homage to these artists and the unsung impact their work had on the direction of late twentieth-century art and film. This remarkable biography, as transformative as the artists it illuminates, questions the very concept of a “group” or “movement,” as it spotlights the Slip’s eclectic mix of gender and sexual orientation, abstraction and Pop, experimental film, painting, and sculpture, assemblage and textile works. Brought together not by the tenets of composition or technique, nor by philosophy or politics, the artists cultivated a scene at the Slip defined by a singular spirit of community and place. They drew lasting inspiration from one another, but perhaps even more from where they called home, and the need to preserve the solitude its geography fostered. Despite Coenties Slip’s obscurity, the entire history of Manhattan was inscribed into its cobblestones—one of the first streets and central markets of the new colony, built by enslaved people, with revolutionary meetings at the tavern just down Pearl Street; named by Herman Melville in Moby Dick and site of the boom and bust of the city’s maritime industry; and, in the artists’s own time, a development battleground for Jane Jacobs and Robert Moses. The Slip’s history is entwined with that of the artists and their art—eclectic and varied work that was made from the wreckage of the city’s many former lives.
An ambitious and singular account of a time, a place, and a group of extraordinary people, The Slip investigates the importance of community, and makes an argument for how we are shaped by it, and how it in turns shapes our work.