ArtSlant's writer, Nicholas Weist, met up with Hudson, the visionary and force behind the New York gallery, Feature Inc. They discussed the history and future of the gallery, along with Hudson's intentions as its owner and director. Feature Inc has recently moved from Chelsea to the Lower East Side.
To learn more about Feature Inc and their exhibition program, see ArtSlant's Gallery Display for Feature Inc.
Courtesy of the artist.
Nicholas Weist: Hudson, you opened Feature Inc. on April Fool's Day in Chicago in 1984 with shows that included Richard Prince, Sarah Charlesworth, and Sherrie Levine. How did you decide to start Feature, how did Chicago react, and what happened over the next twenty years?
Hudson: I began a commercial venture after ten years in the not-for-profit sector (which I continued to work in for another five or so years). I had become disgruntled with the constant need for new talent in a program that was based on showing an artist only once. I wished for continuity and depth with particular artists, and hated the begging posture of not-for-profit, the lack of autonomy, and the watering down effect of the panel review process and group decisions.
Feature Inc.'s opening one-person exhibition in the front gallery was Richard Prince's rephotographed fashion photos. At the time they were $1,500 each. There was a group exhibition in the back gallery of work by affiliated artists. Chicago artists and culture seekers seemed thrilled, but Chicago collectors and the press didn't get it; they weren't interested. Most of what I sold went to New York, Europe, or LA, one of the reasons why I moved. The next 23 years have been all over the place. I change, the art world changes, the economy changes, art changes. I still love engaging with art, what it does (when it is doing it), what artists can do. I try to provide as unencumbered a situation as possible in which to present work. I still hate the investment thing, the hottie thing and all that it takes to generate that; the sluggishness of collectors and museums; and the general lack of ability to appreciate something without a price tag or name attached. And of course, I still hate art fairs.
NW: Okay, so backtrack a little to 1988. You came to New York and found...bright lights big city? Something tells me you weren't looking at plate paintings....
H: But we've been backtracking! The art world, actually most of the world loves that: placing and presenting the history, making it clear, defined, black and white. Well I'm not for sleeping in the fabrications of what is called history. All those anniversary shows, recapitulations...marketing to further ensconce the hierarchy. Anyhow, so I move to New York during August 88's dog days, and by this time most of the New York artists Feature had worked with have New York galleries, so it's redundant to show them. And for me, there are too many good and interesting artists to be seen, so why (other than economics which still remains outside my reasoning for an exhibition) show an artist in two galleries in the same city? Now it's a very different game. Everyone is a little bit piggy: like, why not two gallery shows, one uptown and one downtown, to correspond to a museum exhibition and perhaps a book!
My goal was to present work that was not seen in New York, that wasn't like the work seen in New York; at that time there was a more distinct New York brand of art. My focus became Midwest and West Coast artists, in addition to artists living in New York who were disregarded by the New York galleries. Slowly the parameters of geography became a bit silly, and were disregarded. Now I see that direction as being related to my ongoing interest in autodidacts.
NW: Are you an autodidact? Or maybe a better question is: aren't all good artists? I mean maybe all the good art comes from an individual sharing a personal truth that's universally applicable. Although there are lines to be drawn: what do you do with good ideas that look bad...
H: I'm definitely not an autodidactic. I've had 19 years of institutional education. Everything comes from somewhere. Since the 80's most artists active in the dominant art worlds have some sort of art school training. They are definitely not autodidacts. They actually have to unlearn a lot in order to become an artist. Comparatively, there are only a few autodidacts. The pressure to join the ranks of the properly educated in order to become successful is increasingly strong.
There are many autodidacts who are wallowing in their blather and there are many art-schooled wannabes wallowing in their wallowing. But getting to one's, as you put it, personal truth, doesn't have anything to do with being self-taught. The art is, or should be, the measure. Sometimes good ideas that look bad are worth looking at, enjoying, and/or owning. Sometimes good ideas that look bad can be very good. The appearance of bad has been important to the contemporary art world for at least half a century. There is something interesting in confronting bad: just why exactly is it bad? Some artists are able to make good ideas, that look bad at one time, be seen as good ideas that look good at another time. But someone with an open mind will see and appreciate the good in the bad or whatever before the silly art world recognizes it.
NW: Speaking of other times, you recently announced the imminent demise of Feature in 2018... What excites you about death?
H: Well I'm not particularly excited about death, though I do think it is an interesting event. The warm, glowing, banded, all-text announcement for Feature's upcoming reincarnation included but did not identify the lease dates, Oct 21, 2007 to June 30, 2018, the beginning and the ending. I was thinking that a move would allow for an appropriate opportunity to make changes in my operation, so I was thinking of the time as an entirety. When I first noted the lease termination date of 2018 it was difficult to compute; it feels very, very far away. At that time I'll be close to 70. That was a shocking realization.
This will be the last Feature I have in this lifetime so I want to be especially certain to use all that I have learned and experienced to structure the gallery so I enjoy it thoroughly and get all that I want to do done before I retire to a more contemplative and leisurely life. The last few years I've been watching my parents and a few friends accelerate in age and die. Engaging process. It's not so cut and dried. Life and death are inextricably mixed, and it's very unsettling when one actually witnesses them both being acted out at the same time in the same person. I've been wondering about those "golden years" that are often alluded to. What does one have to do to allow that to occur? I've decided to act out that investigation through Feature, and be rather strict about enjoying the art and the business as much as possible. It's sort of a challenge to myself, to keep it vital and alive while the end is in sight: more reason to push it and live fully.
ArtSlant would like to thank Hudson for making this interview possible.
- Nicholas Weist