When city and state-funded cultural organizations were engaged in the arduous task of bringing art to New York's Wall Street district, something was happening right under their noses, in a former bank at 60 Broad Street, a stone's throw from the New York Stock Exchange. With neither outside funding nor free advertising, and faced with more resistance than support, Audart had moved into the vacant bank in December of 1995 and, 6 weeks later, on February 29, opened its aptly titled "The Urban Frontier" show to a crowd of 1500 people.
Audart founders, Audrey Regan and Neil London and creative ally, Jake Stone, may have been blessed by not having to deal with committees and approval boards and applications for funding. Residing outside of the system, they were free to "just do it" - inspired by ambition and urged forward by the ticking clock, as landlords were trying to sell the building that housed Audart. Sixty Broad Street, a 46 story office tower, had been on the market for years, but this was a new dawn for the financial district.
Regan and London never knew if the next show would be their last, but the next show was always in the works - they proceeded on a 24/7 schedule, as though the landlords did not exist. When building managers dropped by, they were left speechless over what was taking place in the space. Audart was knocking down walls in the night and carving new openings in other walls. Thousands of square feel of heavy floor tiles were flipped to reveal the steel surface. Yards of silk were draped down fourteen foot door openings. Lighting was changed for each new exhibition, an ongoing challenge, as the entire space had been installed with fluorescent lighting for the previous bank. Every exhibit room required halogen lighting and many nights were spent running wire and cable behind the drop ceilings.
Audart functioned as a commercial gallery during business hours and Wall Streeters filed in to view the art, which was for sale. But the real work began at 6pm, after the air conditioning was shut off for the night. Painting walls and floors in a windowless labyrinth with an interior temperature of 100 degrees became par for the course. As Regan said, "We bought a lot of ice." In winter, when the heat was lowered at 6pm, the Audart gallery was made bearable by the use of space heaters - up to 15 of them at a time. Ongoing art installations, in many of the 13 rooms, required artists to be there working, often through the night.
moment Regan and
London first entered the deserted bank in December of 1995, to begin transforming it into a
gallery, until the gallery closed its doors two
and a half years later, sleep was a luxury. "We basically worked around
the clock," says Regan, "We weren't even aware of our exhaustion, and
someone reminded me it was one o'clock, I sometimes had to ask if it
a.m. or p.m., because the entire 8500 square foot space had not one
to the outside. It was all about the art - nothing else
Within months of Audart's inaugural show, the Downtown Alliance staged an invitational group show in the same building that housed Audart. Most of the invitees were SoHo art dealers - the understanding being that Wall Street would be the new, designated SoHo - that providing established art dealers and gallery owners with free exhibit space for one week a year, would somehow make this happen.
Something else was taking place - the emergence of the internet. Office towers that had sat empty for years were being converted to "towers of power" and everyone was talking about bandwidth. Hundreds of dotcom companies were starting up, many of them located at 55 Broad Street in the Rudin family's New York Information and Technology Center, a building that was becoming more famous by the minute, for it's state of the art technology and new impressive video teleconferencing facility, known as the Sandbox. Broad Street was dubbed "Silicon Alley". The New York Times featured architectural renderings of the new, perceived Broad Street, resplendent with sidewalk cafes and rejuvenated back alleys dotted with boutiques and galleries. It was a dream in the making.
People brave enough to rent or buy residences in a neighborhood that still did not have a dry-cleaning facility or even a restaurant that remained open past 6pm, were featured in the press, as the new pioneers - pioneers who lived in apartment lofts, complete with T1 access and monthly rents of four to ten thousand dollars.