Audrey Regan’s dream of owning and operating an art gallery in New York city came true in the winter of 1995 when she and her partner were offered a fifteen room vacant bank just a stone’s throw from the New York Stock Exchange. They had six weeks to clear the debris from each of the rooms; repair the floors and walls, install lighting and publicize “The Urban Frontier” – Audart’s inaugural exhibition, which included artworks that focused on urban isolation, but also hope – the kind of hope that happens when corporate Wall Street and unrestrained creativity collide. Audart with it’s cutting edge art, atmospheric music and interesting characters brought a new flavour to the financial nucleus of the world.
From the beginning, Regan was determined to break the formula followed by traditional art galleries, not only in the way art was curated but in also in the styling of the art opening itself. Regan says, “We never opened an exhibition that a long queue of people wasn't bustling out on Broad Street waiting to get in.” The interior space of the Audart Gallery included five traditional white-cube galleries and six large bank offices, as well as a back section that served as Audart’s lounge. The entire space was literally transformed for each new exhibition and sometimes this meant cutting openings into walls to allow performers to pass through or to connect one installation to another. To improve the flow of traffic in the gallery, Regan had a fourteen foot high doorway cut into one of the main walls to connect three of the white cube galleries to the central hallway. The elevated, tiled floors in twelve of the gallery’s rooms were flipped over to reveal shining steel and within weeks, Audart became the spaceship within a nightclub within a gallery – fifteen rooms of art and atmosphere that many visitors claimed had not existed in the New York art scene since the 1960’s.
It was not uncommon to find Audrey Regan walking barefoot around the space, even when it was opened for regular business to the Wall Street crowd. And, it was not uncommon to find an artist here and there who was taking a nap after working on an installation. The gallery’s daytime visitors came to expect such things and most of them loved it, many even bringing their lunches with them and finding a quiet place to sit somewhere within the gallery – to get away from corporate fluorescence for just one hour.
“The place never closed,” said one artist who appeared in two Audart exhibitions, “You could walk in at noon or at two in the morning and there was always something going on – something being conceived of, or another installation being put up in one or more of the rooms.” Even Regan admits it was a hard place to leave and this is evidenced by the fact that she often slept on a banquette in the ladies’ room rather than going home to her midtown apartment.
With one exhibition in place, another one was always in the planning stages and Regan usually had a few ideas for the show beyond that. Her theory that issuing early press releases forces you to go forward, seemed to be working. “You made a commitment right there,” she says, “And sure, it was always biting off more than we could chew, but that is what made Audart happen in such a short period of time. We actually did everything we said we’d do.” Regan also admits that working with a partner had its problems. “There were some things I wanted to do that he didn’t – things I knew instinctively would be good for the exhibition and too much time was lost waiting for him to come around.” Regan still holds fast to the theory that Creative Directors need complete freedom to do their work. “I would have gone much further with interior transformation if left to my own resources.” she says. She will also readily admit that running Audart solo would have been impossible, not at the creative level, but with the sheer amount of physical work that needed to be done. She, her partner Neil London and their creative ally and artist, Jake Stone did everything from making lights; painting walls; running wiring and building pedestals for the art. Regan, single-handedly, handled all the wine and food service for the huge opening receptions.
What makes all of this more amazing is that Audart had no kitchen and the only running water, in the bathrooms, was cold. “Nobody could have done what we did in such a short time and under such difficult conditions,” Regan claims. Does she have any regrets? If so, thinking about “Ten Years After: The Warhol Factory” quickly erases them. Curated by Dr. Debra Miller, a post-Warhol “diva” and university art professor, the Warhol exhibition was mounted on freshly painted white or black walls, beneath soaring panels of white tricot that danced across the ceilings and shot down into the steel floors in points. “Our aim was to transform the gallery into a place Andy himself would have loved.” Thousands of people showed up for the opening party – over five thousand, in fact. Having outside curators do their thing at the Audart Gallery was one of the highlights of the total Audart experience, according to Regan.
For the Art & Technology Circus, Audart’s biggest exhibition, Regan found much of the art on the internet by perusing artists’ websites in the middle of the night. “The worldwide web was not so wide in those days, “she says, “But nonetheless, I was surprised and delighted at the number of artists around the world who had their own websites.” The folks who ran Audart were internet savvy right from the start. The original Audart website went up in 1996 and two of Audart’s exhibitions were broadcast live over the web. Regan's partner, Neil London, already well-versed in electronics and communications, quickly learned the emerging language of new technology, including the internet. "Neil was talking bandwidth when most of the world still thought it meant a ring size." says Regan. Sixty-five artists and performers participated in the Art & Technology Circus at Audart. Twelve corporations sponsored the show by contributing cash as well as state-of-the-art technology and equipment. What saved the Circus from appearing like a Microsoft New Product Presentation were the coloured walls; tent installations - one of them made entirely of gold chain – and the unique and sometimes shocking works of art that Regan reflects upon as a daring curation.
Not exactly a member of the establishment (by choice), Regan recalls being married to a high-level corporate executive and then working for a number of years for the Ontario, Canada Government in New York city. Looking back on the exhibitions she curated or produced, it seems apparent that Regan had her tongue planted firmly in her cheek from the minute Audart opened its doors. Today, all traces of Audart have disappeared from Broad Street. The lower level of the building that housed the Audart Gallery has been razed and reconstructed. The booming Broad Street, dubbed Silicon Alley in the late 1990’s, has suffered its losses since 9/11. The Downtown Alliance and Thundergultch still get the most acclaim for bringing art to New York’s financial district. “It’s easy to bring art anywhere,” says Regan, “When you have a big budget, cheap and available press, and connections to the corporate world. Even as she says this, her tongue creates a slight mound in her right cheek.
Over 150 artists got to show their work at the Audart Gallery in a running succession of ten exhibitions that took place in just two years. Today, Audrey Regan publishes an online magazine at www.art-is-life.com She continues to work on her own Audart archive at www.audartgallery.com and she curates exhibitions in galleries in New York city, including the recent “Bill Clinton Show” at the Locus Gallery in SoHo. An art salon in Toronto is in the planning stages.