A Finding Aid to the 55 Mercer Artists, Inc. Records,
1939-2007,
bulk 1970-2007
, in the Archives of American Art
AAA.55mercga

Summary
Collection ID:
AAA.55mercga
Creators:
55 Mercer Artists, Inc.
Dates:
1939-2007
bulk 1970-2007
Languages:
English
Physical Description:
5.1 linear feet
Repository:
Archives of American Art
55 Mercer Artists, Inc. records, 1939-2007, bulk 1970-2007, measure 5.1 linear feet. The records, which are incomplete with sizeable gaps, consist of administrative records, exhibition files, artists' files, financial records, scrapbooks, guest books, and printed material that document one of the most successful and long lived artist run cooperative galleries in SoHo. The only item pre-dating 55 Mercer Artists, Inc. is a 1939 newspaper clipping in the artists' files.

Scope and Contents note
Scope and Contents note
55 Mercer Artists, Inc. records, 1939-2007, bulk 1970-2007, measure 5.1 linear feet. The records, which are incomplete with sizeable gaps, consist of administrative records, exhibition files, artists' files, financial records, scrapbooks, guest books, and printed material that document one of the most successful and long lived artist run cooperative galleries in SoHo. The only item pre-dating 55 Mercer Artists, Inc. is a 1939 newspaper clipping in the artists' files.
Administrative records include correspondence, records of board committees, exhibition schedules, membership and mailing lists, and minutes. Exhibition files consist of slides and photographs of installations and individual works of art, small amounts of correspondence, notes, and lists of works shown.
Artists' files consist of various combinations of correspondence, resumes, printed material, photographs and slides of art work of members and guest artists. Many artists are represented by just an item or two; files for Corliss Cavaliere, Peter Charlap, Joan Gardner, Irene Gennaro, Jon Gregg, Ethelyn Honig, and Lisa Ingram are more substantial.
The majority of financial records concern membership dues, rent and exhibition fees received. Also included are sporadic banking records, paid bills, treasurers' reports, insurance information and tax records. Eight scrapbooks include exhibition announcements, publicity, reviews, miscellaneous printed material, photographs, and slides.
Guest books consist of 22 volumes and loose pages that record gallery visitors, many of whom offered comments about the shows. Exhibition titles and dates are noted on the page for the day of each opening reception.
Among the printed materials are exhibition announcements, catalogs, and publicity produced by 55 Mercer Artists, Inc.; copies of every exhibition announcement, catalog, and press release issued have not survived. Also found are articles about or mentioning 55 Mercer Artists, Inc., exhibition reviews, advertisements and event listings.

Arrangement
Arrangement
The collection is arranged as 7 series:
Series 1: Administrative Records, circa 1970-2007 (Box 1; 0.4 linear ft.)
Series 2: Exhibition Files, 1971-2007 (Box 1; 0.4 linear ft.)
Series 3: Artists' Files, 1939, 1973-2006 (Boxes 1-2; 0.6 linear ft.)
Series 4: Financial Records, 1973-2006 (Boxes 2-3; 0.8 linear ft.)
Series 5: Scrapbooks, 1977-1987 (Box 3; 0.3 linear ft.)
Series 6: Guest Books, 1972-2007 (Boxes 3-5; 1.7 linear ft.)
Series 7: Printed Material, 1973-2007 (Box 5, OV 6; 0.9 linear ft.)

Biographical/Historical note
Biographical/Historical note
55 Mercer Artists, Inc., an artist-run alternative to commercial galleries, was founded as 55 Mercer Gallery - also known as 55 Mercer Street Gallery and 55 Mercer - in December 1969. The earliest of a second wave of co-operative galleries in New York City, it was one of the most successful and the longest lived.
Many of the founders and early members were active in the Art Workers' Coalition, a group formed to address artists' rights issues and promote the overhaul of the museum and gallery system to remove profit motives from art. Tom Parker, an artist friend acting on behalf of group members who aspired to open a co-operative gallery, rented the third floor of 55 Mercer Street. He reserved a room to use as a studio and sublet the remainder to the co-op. Two large galleries of nearly equal size were separated by a small, open office area, a layout that led to a tradition of tandem solo exhibitions or one large group show. The open, spare and worn space especially appealed to sculptors and attracted those who worked in large scale with recycled materials.
The inaugural exhibition in early 1970 was a group show of the ten founding members: Alice Adams, Martin Bressler, Don Cole, Gloria Greenburg, Stan Kaplan, Christy Park, Stephen Rosenthal, L. Shreve Stevenson, and Merrill Wagner; during the first year, each member also had a solo exhibition. With haphazard arrangements and no publicity or gallery guide listings, reviews were not forthcoming. Nevertheless, by the end of its first year the gallery had established a reputation as a space "of artists, by artists, and for artists" and over the years presented some of the best exhibitions in SoHo. Membership was fluid. No particular style or philosophy was ever dominant, and members found unity in their focus on quality, antipathy to commercial galleries and insistence on freedom for member and guest artists alike.
By the start of its second season, the gallery had the attention of critics and reviews were appearing regularly in art periodicals. When the co-operative gallery Ours closed at the end of 1970, Janet Fish, Diane Karol, Paul Tschinkel, and Frank Lincoln Viner were invited to join. With larger membership came the need for a definite exhibition schedule and greater organization. Over the next few years, meetings began to occur more frequently. By the mid 1970s the gallery began to receive funding from sources such as the New York State Council on the Arts and the National Endowment for the Arts.
Officially incorporated as 55 Mercer Street Artists, Inc. in 1977, the organizations by-laws specified: "The corporation is a not-for-profit corporation whose purpose is to provide a facility for artists who seek to introduce their work to the public. The corporation maintains an exhibition space which it makes available for this purpose, both for its artists members, and for visiting artists. In addition, the corporation presents performances, discussions, workshops and other art-related events for the general public." A board of directors composed of artist members managed the affairs of the corporation assisted by a Membership Committee, Grants Committee, and Selection Committee that chose and scheduled exhibitions,
Trustees began managing the building after the owner of the 55 Mercer Street died, and 55 Mercer Artists, Inc. received an eviction notice in early 2007. Legal representation was obtained and a loophole discovered, but declining membership and the poor physical condition of the facilities eventually prompted a decision to relocate. Some members chose to join other galleries. A core group of about a dozen 55 Mercer artists found a suitable space in Long Island City; after reorganizing as an artist-initiated not-for-profit gallery, they reopened in 2008 as M55 Mercer Art.

Administration
Processing Information
The collection was processed to an intetmediate level and a finding aid produced by Catherine S. Gaines in 2009.
Author
Finding aid prepared by Catherine S. Gaines
Immediate Source of Acquisition note
Donated in 2007 by 55 Mercer Street Artists, Inc. via Ethelyn Honig.

Using the Collection
Preferred Citation
55 Mercer Artists, Inc. records, 1939-2007, bulk 1970-2007. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.
Restrictions on Access
Use of original material requires an appointment.
Ownership and Literary Rights
The 55 Mercer Artists, Inc. records are owned by the Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. Literary rights as possessed by the donor have been dedicated to public use for research, study, and scholarship. The collection is subject to all copyright laws.

Keywords
Keywords table of terms and types.
Keyword Terms Keyword Types
55 Mercer St. Gallery. Corporate Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Charlap, Peter, 1949- Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Gardner, Joan Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Genaro, Irene Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Gregg, Jon Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Honig, Ethelyn Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Ingram, Lisa Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Alternative spaces (Art facilities)--New York (State)--New York Topic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Art galleries, Commercial--New York (State)--New York Topic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Art galleries, Cooperative--New York (State)--New York Topic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Photographs Genre/Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Scrapbooks Genre/Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Visitors' books Genre/Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid

Repository Contact
Archives of American Art
750 9th Street, NW
Victor Building, Suite 2200
Washington, D.C., 20001
Phone: 202-633-7950
http://www.aaa.si.edu/askus