Norman Fisher’s New York on view at MOCA Jacksonville

MOCA Jacksonville presents A Walk on the Wild Side: ‘70s New York in the Norman E. Fisher Collection at MOCA Jacksonville, an exhibition exploring the dynamic culture of New York in the 1970s that spurred a decade of collaboration and innovation between artists working in a variety of genres. The exhibition features a special collection within the museum’s permanent collection paired with loans from around the country, including artists like Joseph Kosuth, Gordon Matta-Clark, Robert Mapplethorpe, Richard Nonas, Yoko Ono and Andy Warhol, as well as writers, dancers, musicians and singers including William Burroughs, David Bowie, Lou Reed, Philip Glass and Robert Wilson.

This exhibition is significant, not only for the visual story it tells, but for the academic research that has been produced as a result of the installation, highlighting an under researched time in 20th century art history and focusing on the vast influences of a Jacksonville native on the broader art world. The exhibition will be accompanied by a catalog and an exciting array of public programs to further contextualize the works on view.

Visitors to MOCA Jacksonville can view the exhibition through June 30, 2024, and are invited to celebrate the exhibition at the community portion of the exhibition’s Opening Celebration Event that will kick off MOCA’s 100th anniversary year on Thursday, January 18, 2024 from 8-9 p.m.

ABOUT THE EXHIBITION

Comprised of nearly 700 objects in a variety of media, the Norman E. Fisher Collection is one of MOCA Jacksonville’s most significant holdings. It was donated to the museum in 1979 by the family of Jacksonville native Norman Fisher, who became immersed in the New York cultural scene in the 1970s, befriending many of the luminaries of the time.

The collection offers an expansive view of late-20th-century American culture; a moment of radical creative experimentation across the visual, literary, and performing arts. It was a time when artists broke down the barriers between different art forms and collaborated in newfound and innovative ways. The questioning of the basic tenets of their different media, whether painting, sculpture, dance, music, film or poetry, led them to provoking crossovers and reciprocity.

A Walk on the Wild Side: ‘70s New York in the Norman E. Fisher Collection at MOCA Jacksonville traces this time of experimentation through the works in the Norman E. Fisher Collection, complemented with national loans of sculptural work, video performances, prints, and installations. 

“It has been incredibly exciting to work with the Norman E. Fisher Collection in preparation of the exhibition,” Senior Curator Ylva Rouse said. “The artworks, printed media and documentation that Norman Fisher amassed give us a rare insight into this boundary breaking period in American Art, that in many ways prefigured the ways in which artists present their work today.”

NORMAN FISHER AND HIS INFLUENCE

Installation view of " Walk on the Wild Side: ‘70s New York in the Norman E. Fisher Collection at MOCA Jacksonville."
Installation view of ” Walk on the Wild Side: ‘70s New York in the Norman E. Fisher Collection at MOCA Jacksonville.” Photo by Doug Eng.

Norman Earle Fisher was born on July 31, 1938, in Jacksonville and died in L.A. on April 9, 1977. He grew up and attended Landon High School in Jacksonville, where he got good grades and showed great flair for ballroom dancing, winning dance contests at the Southside Ballroom. He held various local jobs, including at the Florida Theatre and Ryder Truck Lines, and later supported his schooling at NYU by working at Chase Manhattan Bank in New York.

In 1959, he married Patricia “Patty” Jones, also of Jacksonville, and they married and had a son, Douglas, in 1961. It is in the spring of 1969 when he meets Louisiana artists Richard “Dickie” Landry and Tina Girouard, who introduce him to the New York artworld.

Norman Fisher has been compared to Gertrude Stein, who famously brought together visual artists, poets and writers in her home in Paris. In the same way, Fisher’s living room on West Twelfth Street in Manhattan became a gathering place – a salon – known as “Norman’s” that would bring together creatives of all genres.

As Mario Amaya, the director of the New York Cultural Center at the time, remembers, “there was nowhere else in the mid-70s where on one afternoon you might meet David Bowie, Jack Nicholson, Philip Glass, or Patti Smith; or you saw Elton John’s limousine parked outside Fisher’s building, and Liza Minnelli sitting inside together with the Warhol crowd.”

Norman Fisher was a social phenomenon – almost a work of art himself, some have said – in his instinctive understanding of the creative spirit of the time, and the genuine passion that he dedicated to support the artists around him.

Many of the artists Fisher befriended in New York were up-and-coming conceptual and performance artists; including luminary artworld figures such as Richard Serra, Joseph Kosuth, Gordon Matta-Clark, Robert Mapplethorpe, Lawrence Weiner, and Jackie Winsor, but also writers, dancers, musicians and singers, including William Burroughs, David Bowie, Philip Glass, Lou Reed, Cherry Vanilla, and Robert Wilson among many others.

ALTERNATIVE SPACES, EXPERIMENTAL CREATIONS, AND IMPROVISATION

A Walk on the Wild Side features several focus points based on the Collection, such as the iconic performance and exhibition space and workshop 112 Greene Street, that together with the FOOD restaurant and Avalanche magazine constituted a network and mouthpiece for these artists’ experimental art practices, taking place in what would later be known as SOHO. At the time though, it was a derelict industrial area, in a city on the edge of bankruptcy. For the artists, it provided an affordable place to live and work, and an arena in which to stage their artwork and performances. 

112 Greene Street, in a building owned by artist Jeffrey Lew and his wife, Rachel Wood, became a space where artists had the freedom to push boundaries and take risks, most famously by Gordon Matta-Clark and Alan Saret, who were instrumental in defining it as a space with a social context. 112 Greene Street became a prototype for the slew of alternative spaces that were created by artists during this time as outlets for their new art and their collective energy.

Some of these survived the transition into established non-profits and have become iconic, such as The Kitchen, established in 1971; Artists Space in 1972; JUST ABOVE MIDTOWN (J.A.M.)  in 1974; Franklin Furnace in 1976; and the Drawing Center and the New Museum in 1977, among many others. 112 Greene Street eventually became White Columns, still active today.

Another focal point is Einstein on the Beach, represented by original sketches and scores in MOCA’s collection. Working with stage and theatre director Robert Wilson, musician Philip Glass (whose Ensemble would later turn part of Jeffrey Lew’s building into a recording studio) presented his astounding new sounds in this groundbreaking contemporary opera that revolutionized the classical music world.

Conceived in the spring, summer and fall of 1975, and engaging some of the artists and dancers in the exhibition, such as artist and musician Richard “Dickie” Landry, the Einstein on the Beach opera was the first of a trilogy described by Glass as portraits of people whose personal vision “transformed the thinking of their times through the power of ideas rather than by military force.” “Einstein” consisted of four interconnected acts and was five hours long, with no intermissions. Instead, the audience was invited to wander in and out at liberty during performances.

The acts were intersticed by what Glass and Wilson called “knee plays” – brief interludes that provided time for scenery changes. The text consisted of numbers, solfège syllables, and some cryptic poems by poet Christopher Knowles, performed primarily by choreographer Lucinda Childs, Sheryl S. Sutton, and Samuel M. Johnson.  

Initially no US Opera house would present it, and it would premiere in Avignon, France, in July of 1976. Following its tremendous success, it was brought to the Metropolitan Opera House for two sold-out performances in November 1976.

ABOUT THE NORMAN E. FISHER COLLECTION AT MOCA JACKSONIVLLE

Installation view of " Walk on the Wild Side: ‘70s New York in the Norman E. Fisher Collection at MOCA Jacksonville."
Installation view of ” Walk on the Wild Side: ‘70s New York in the Norman E. Fisher Collection at MOCA Jacksonville.” Photo by Doug Eng.

Norman Fisher, a Jacksonville native and an important figure and instigator in the 1970s New York art scene, befriended many of the luminaries of the time and assembled a collection of art and ephemera that tells a fascinating story. When his family donated the collection to the museum in 1979, MOCA was known as the Jacksonville Art Museum and was still located on Art Museum Drive on the city’s Southside – one of the many chapters of MOCA’s exciting history that will be remembered and revisited in the celebration of the museum’s 100th anniversary in 2024.

Beginning in 2022, MOCA embarked on an in-depth, art historical investigation of this remarkable collection, which includes a wide-range of objects and ephemera. In its role as a cultural institute of the University of North Florida, the museum launched an interdisciplinary paid research fellowship program for both undergraduate and graduate students. The program offered opportunities to participate in and support scholarly research related to the Norman E. Fisher Collection, while empowering the fellows to learning about collections management and museum curation from professionals working in the field and providing them with tools, skills, and experiences that will shape their future dissertation research and prepare them for further work in higher education, museums, libraries, or other research settings involving collections.

ABOUT MOCA JACKSONVILLE

The Museum of Contemporary Art Jacksonville celebrates its 100th anniversary in 2024, as the oldest art museum in the region and the second contemporary art museum to be established in the United States. This celebration year is an opportunity for MOCA to give back to the community that has been its home for a century by presenting groundbreaking exhibitions and programs that will engage the community and elevate Jacksonville as a regional destination for arts and culture.

One hundred years ago, a group of visionary local women artists came together to imagine the kind of city they wanted Jacksonville to be — the kind of community they wanted to live in and be a part of. At the core of their vision for a rich, vital, dynamic city were art, culture, and education. Thus, what we now call MOCA Jacksonville was born — first as a series of exhibitions by artists of the day, used as a fundraising tool to support public school education; then as a guild; and later as an art museum and educational leader.

A century later, MOCA’s mission remains focused on the art, artists, and ideas of our time, with a vision that unites education, creativity, and community building in the heart of downtown Jacksonville. Throughout 2024, MOCA will celebrate its centennial year — looking to the past to recognize the legacy of the visionary leaders and important milestones that have brought us to this point; marking this moment with extraordinary exhibitions and programs that will not only elevate MOCA, but provide a stimulus and create an energized destination for our Downtown to build upon; and imagine the future that we want for our great city, nourishing our community through art and culture for the next 100 years.

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