The Shows at PROJECT INC. 1972-1975
Beginning in November 1972 a series of over 30 one night shows took place at a community art center in Cambridge, Massachusetts. This series showed many conceptual and performance artists in Boston for the first time. 22 year old Paul McMahon also showed the work of his generation, mostly students from California Institute of the Arts and Nova Scotia College of Art and Design. The shows were financed on his salary from a gas station. There were also a few shows at other locations, including the Cambridge School in Weston and Massachusetts College of Art.
It was at Project Inc., between 1972 and 1975, that Conceptualism passed the baton to the new post-Conceptual art in the form of one-day exhibitions and events by an impressive roster of Conceptual and Performance artists…
-Douglas Eklund, THE PICTURES GENERATION 1974-1984, Yale University Pre
In 2010, the Center for Curatorial Studies at Bard College acquired the Project Inc. Archive from Paul McMahon.
For more information contact the CCS Bard Archives.
Matt Mullican wall in INDIAN SUMMER, September 1974; a group show with James Welling, David Salle, Robert C. Morgan and Paul McMahon. Preceding Artists Space’s PICTURES show by 3 years it was the first group exhibition to announce the emergence of the new sensibility showcased in the PICTURES GENERATION 1974-1984 at the Metropolitan Museum in 2009.
An important group exhibition…entitled Indian Summer …could be described as the first presentation in embryonic form of what would become the Pictures sensibility.
Douglas Eklund, op.cit.
TIMELINE OF EVENTS
11/24/72 ROBERT C. MORGAN
12/8/72 PAUL McMAHON
12/15/72 DAN GRAHAM
12/22/72 JACK GOLDSTEIN
12/29/72 JAY JAROSLAV
1/12/73 DOUGLAS HUEBLER
1/19/73 JAMES WELLING
1/19/73 VIDEOTAPES BY CAL ARTS STUDENTS
1/26/73 DONALD BURGY
2/18/73 TOM MARIONI
2/24/73 JOHN KNIGHT
3/3/73 AUDREY ADNEY
3/3/73 GREGORY AMENOFF
3/29/73 WOLFGANG STOERCHLE PERFORMANCE @ MASS. COLLEGE OF ART
4/7/73 MARTHA S. WILSON
5/12/73 LAWRENCE WEINER
5/19/73 DAVID ASKEVOLD
5/25/73 RICHARDS JARDEN
5/26/73 TIM ZUCK
8/18/73 MICHAEL ASHER FILM SCREENED @ CAMBRIDGE SCHOOL
10/20/73 DEAN NIMMER
11/10/73 POSTCARDS, COLLECTED AND SENT BY ARTISTS
(TRAVELED TO OBERLIN COLLEGE SOON AFTER)
11/17/73 BRUCE ANDREWS
12/1/73 MATT MULLICAN
1/16/74 FIVE BOSTON CONCEPTUAL ARTISTS @ BOSTON ICA;
4/4/74 J.B. COBB
5/4/74 ATHENA TACHA
5/11/74 ALICE AYCOCK
5/24/74 SOL LEWITT WALL DRAWING INSTALLED @ CAMBRIDGE SCHOOL
7/27/74 LAURIE ANDERSON
7/27/74 GH HOVIGIMYAN
9/9-15/74 INDIAN SUMMER; MCMAHON, MORGAN, MULLICAN, WELLING, SALLE
11/16/74 EMMANUEL KELLY
12/7/74 ALAN SONDHEIM
12/17/74 JAMES WELLING PLUS ‘BOATYARD’ INSTALLATION AT MASSART
FEBRUARY 1975 CHARLES SIMONDS
2/6/75 VIDEOTAPES AND A PERFORMANCE @ BCAE; MULLICAN ‘ESSEX’, HUDSON-TAVA, NIMMER-AMENOFF
2/16/75 MATT MULLICAN PERFORMANCE @ MASS ART
3/1/75 WILLOUGHBY SHARP
3/15/75 DAVID SALLE
4/1/75 ALAN SONDHEIM
APRIL/MAY 1975 PETER DOWNSBROUGH INSTALLATION @ CAMBRIDGE SCHOOL
6/27/75 ERNST CARAMELLE AND JUAN NAVARRO BALDEWEG
7/26/75 BARBARA HERO
7/26/75 ROBERT C. MORGAN
JULY 2-7, 2012
Forty years ago, from December 1972 until July 1975 a series of over 30 art shows at a little storefront called Project Inc. introduced conceptual art to the Boston area and provided the first look at the new post-conceptual sensibility of his peers who would be dubbed the Pictures Generation by Douglas Eklund, who used that name for his retrospective of the early years of this group at the Met in 2009. This series included the first Boston performance of Laurie Anderson, the first solo show of David Salle and first Boston shows of Lawrence Weiner, Dan Graham, Michael Asher, Matt Mullican, James Welling and others.
In 1972 I had just graduated from Pomona, where I studied with Mowry Baden, James Turrell, Helene Winer and Hal Glicksman. In the course of my studies I also benefited from contact with John Baldessari, David Askevold and Barbara Reise. I was completely committed to post-studio/conceptual art; living and breathing it 24/7. I thought of art almost as a philosophical or religious cause; a way of challenging cultural expectations.
When I returned to Boston I found a provincial capital which conceptual art had not yet penetrated. Around the corner from me on Huron Avenue not too far from Harvard Square there was a little storefront space called Project Inc.; a neighborhood art center which offered after school art classes for children. They also had a ceramics studio and darkroom which were open to the public on a walk-in basis. They offered a few types of classes and I proposed giving some lectures there on conceptual art. The director, Trintje Janssen liked the idea and I made a poster for the lecture series: Art of the Last Ten Minutes. It didn’t fly, but I had made a good connection and soon I had a better idea: art shows!
I proposed the following deal to Trintje. She would give me the keys when Project closed at 6 PM on a Friday or Saturday and when she came in the next day the place would look the same. That was it. No rent, no questions asked. Nobody thought about insurance then. The arrangement worked for her and thus ensued a series of around 30 shows in a funky little white cube space in a quiet, out-of-the-way neighborhood in Cambridge.
I’d go in at six with the artist and take the finger-paintings or whatever was on the walls down, and neatly put it all away. Then we’d install the show. The doors would open at 8 and close at 10. We’d put the finger-paintings back up and voila! The place looked the same the next morning when Trintje opened up. I never heard any complaints but there must have been at least one kid who wondered why his fingerpainting was upside down.
I was just barely able to afford to do the shows. I figured the whole cost of a show was in the range of $30. My fulltime gas station job only paid $80 a week but my apartment was just $35 a month (the gas station owner was also my landlord). The use of Project Inc. was free and roundtrip trainfare from NY for the artist was only $20. In addition Project Inc. had a bulk mailing permit (1.4 cents apiece) so the printing and mailing to the list of about 300 people came to less than $5 a show. The artists stayed in the apartment I shared with my future wife Jody and we fed them. I never made a penny from the shows until the Center for Curatorial Studies at Bard College bought my archives in 2010.
The one night format was of course, natural for performance art, film or video but unusual for visual work. However, I had spent enough time in art galleries to know that upwards of 90% of the people who see a show see it at the opening. So I reasoned I could just have the opening and it would accomplish more or less the same end without all of the overhead.
I was interested in a lot of artists who lived in New York and had been making it my business to meet them. Most of them wanted to show in Boston. The only ones who already had were Sol Lewitt, who had done something at MIT and Doug Huebler, who lived in the area. Laurie Anderson also had some drawings in a show curated by Lucy Lippard at the ICA (that’s how I found out about her) but Project Inc. was her first Boston area performance. She still had long hair.
I think it was John Baldessari who gave me Dan Graham’s number. Dan was the most supportive and helpful to me of all of the artists of his generation. I may have done something interesting without his help but I might not have, too. His assistance was invaluable. He gave me his mailing list and introduced me to his friends, many of whom showed in the series, like Sol Lewitt, Lawrence Weiner and Michael Asher. These artists, so well known today were unknown then outside of a small circle of gallerists, critics, curators and artists mostly in New York and Europe. Virtually no one in Boston was aware of conceptual art at all and I was not able to get the attention of the local art reviewers. I am not very aggressive when it comes to beating the drum about my activities. Maybe someone else could have gotten more play in the press.
Dan’s mailing list, augmented by about thirty Boston addresses and a few from other artists came to about 300 people. The majority were in New York with a couple of dozen in LA and Europe. A number of people said that this list was practically the entire worldwide audience for conceptual art at the time. I have not yet been able to find a copy of it in my papers.
There were only about 30 people in Boston who had any interest at the time and I had a hell of a time getting an audience to the space. In fact Dan Graham almost didn’t do his show. When it came time for the performance the only audience members were myself, Jim Welling and Jody. Dan was not expecting a big crowd but he refused to perform unless there were at least 3 people in the shot. From the point of view of professional advancement he justifed performing at Project Inc. as something to fill out his resume. It might look better to a curator in Italy, for example, if a certain performance had been done in a few venues in different cities in the US. But it should be backed up with documentation and in order to get a credible performance photo Dan calculated he would need at least 3 heads in the shot. Ergo he said it would not be worth it for him to do the performance if he couldn’t get a usable photo. He was adamant, so I had to beg my local friend Warren Carberg, even though he was deathly ill in bed with the flu and had already declined. There was no one else though, and in the end I prevailed upon him to drag himself out to Dan’s show, 102 degree fever and all.
Dan Graham performed ‘Intentions’ and mentioned the performance in a piece about the work in Artsmagazine. As a random historical fact, I was not aware of this until 2010. I was going through my correspondence when I noticed a pointed reference to Artsmagazine in a 1973 postcard from Dan. I then looked through the two or three copies of Arts that I have from then and lo and behold, there it was. If I had known about it then I would have trumpeted it on my press releases and information sheets.
My adventures with Dan are some of the funniest experiences I’ve ever had. Dan is such a wonderful and unique character, not to mention brilliant. He was full of information, ideas, and rumors, with a hyperactive mind constantly making pronouncements and speculating about everything. The beauty of his personality is you are getting a realtime readout of almost everything passing through his mind. Coincidentally this was the exactly the form of his performance ‘Intentions’. He stood in front of the audience and blurted out what he was perceiving as quickly as he could and as much as possible uncensored. It was an exercise in flipped point of view, like Acconci’s performance where he makes eye contact with each audience member individually. I watched a performance of someone watching and talking about me and the rest of my surroundings, so instead of a performer who receives attention from the audience Dan was a performer who projected attention back on the audience, which was his intention.
Dan was hyper-vigilant when it came to detecting, researching and forecasting changes and developments in the culture. He was relentlessly theorizing on the ramifications of this and that. A subject he was fascinated by was the pseudo-science at the roots of scientology and EST. In scientology the goal was to be declared ‘clear’. They had devices which they tested people with which, as I understand it mostly just measured galvanic skin response, the same thing measured in lie detector tests. This sort of device could be obtained from an outfit in Framingham Mass. which I think turned out to be called Silva Mind Control. Dan made it a condition of his showing at Project Inc that I drive him there, which I, of course, agreed to. The time for that drive coincided with a vicious blizzard with large flakes of blowing snow. It was dark early (December) and the driving conditions were horrendous. There was no one but us on the roads. The thirty mile roundtrip was one the most thrilling and dangerous of my life. Only crazy people would be out that night and we certainly fit that description. I was shocked to find Silva Mind Control open but they were. Dan procured one of the galvanic skin response meters and we took it home to try it out.
Jim Welling was around then and can be seen in photos taken in the kitchen when Dan was trying way too hard to make alpha waves, which are best made by meditating or otherwise being so relaxed you are making no effort at all. Dan had a sort of anxiety driven intensity which caused me to go into my Mr. Relaxed persona, where none of the different things which were panicking Dan at the rate of approximately one per minute could disturb me, and I was able to sooth his fears and get on with the practical things which needed to be done. When I put on the GSR machine I made alpha waves right away, to the consternation of Dan who hadn’t made any. It was a very curious thing to base a pseudo-religion like Scientology on but one could imagine how it might be an effective tool in a pseudo-religious setting where mind-control was the real goal. Dan was also fascinated by Paddy’s Lunch, a very hardcore Irish working class hole in the wall bar across Walden street from my gas station and on the next block from our apartment. I didn’t go in there often but Dan was very curious about class issues and you couldn’t get any more working class than Paddy’s. They served cold draft lager in little glasses for something ridiculous like 20 cents. My pal Clarence Blouin, a burly seventy-ish French Canadian handyman who’d had about 3 heart attacks and could still lift a refrigerator (and often did) started each day at Paddy’s with a boiler maker (shot of scotch with a beer chaser) at 7 am. The day of his film screening and lecture at Mass. Art Dan decided we would have lunch at Paddy’s.*
It was a pretty awkward experience for me. I managed to live on the same block while having little to do with most of these men who were mostly drunk, angry, pro-war and anti-intellectual. I was watching the clock and kept us on a schedule which allowed plenty of time for the trip to Mass Art. Boston traffic is notorious for good reason and I was playing it safe. I also knew Dan might have issues with the audiovisual hardware. We got there and I made sure we got the necessary equipment set up in good time. We were about to load the film when Dan turned to me with this look and said, “Where’s the film bag?” I had no idea. It soon became clear it was nowhere to be found. We didn’t have it. As fast as thought I was in the car flying back to Cambridge in record time. I calculated it was almost physically impossible to do the roundtrip before showtime. I shot through the house and no film bag. I retraced our movements and dashed over to Paddy’s and there was the bag still on the chair right next to where Dan was sitting, unnoticed by anyone in the bar. I amazed myself by getting back to Mass Art in time for the show, which went off flawlessly after all that mishigas.
Dan Graham trying to make alpha waves.
Dan continued to be a helpful friend after I moved to NYC in 1975 to be Helene Winer’s assistant director at Artists Space until 7/7/77. He was a big supporter of the punk art band scene, including Daily Life, the band I was in with Glenn Branca, Barbara Ess and Christine Hahn in 1977-8.
* In a small number of cases I was able to get artists a small honorarium for appearing at Mass. College of Art. I got Dan such a gig but I don’t remember if it was during the same trip as the performance (December 1972) or in the spring of 1974 when we met up at UMass for events hosted by Robert C. Morgan, who was already teaching there.