“THE END OF AN ERA.” That’s the common reaction when someone or something significant is lost—a historic train station that should have been landmarked and was ingloriously torn down, a person who embodied a higher standard to which we all might aspire. Here in New York, as possibly nowhere else, a certain class of people has much in common with the plastic-fantastic buildings they inhabit. They physically and philosophically block the view, a view to which we may have opened their eyes. Some of them enliven and decorate their lives with art, though just how many acquired any of it from the art dealer known simply as Hudson is open to debate. His gallery, Feature Inc., was tremendously loved and respected, though mostly by artists, critics, and a few curators—by those who are unable to keep galleries afloat even when the tide is high. And when levels rise due to art global warming, isn’t it just a bigger sea of mediocrity? How can you swim against the rising tide and not end up drowning?
And what of the fact that you would acknowledge a major passage by dressing down the world departed? This was not Hudson’s style. At least not openly. For the rest of us mere mortals, it’s almost impossible to be immune to that bitter pill, as a world we once knew, a world of art and ideas, slowly but surely disappears. Hudson, if he could hear this now, in his ever-enlightened positivity, would certainly have countered: As one part of the universe contracts, another is expanding. This is surely key to the vision that guided him—which he offered to us freely. And vision, at least among certain bold-faced dealers, jet-setting collectors, consultants, and newly minted art stars, is in seriously short supply. These days, in modern life we perpetually encounter “the end of an era” which already ended long ago.
As a means to sort out my own conflicted position and to consider this passing with the immediacy and honesty of its emotion, I went back to mails sent and received between February 12 and 17, not all recipients and responders identified, and in an entirely instinctive rather than exact temporal order—a Hudson lesson to be sure.
Even if 50 new galleries opened next week, they wouldn’t begin to fill the space that Hudson leaves behind. Primarily, I suppose, because at least 49 of those galleries would be opened to make piles and piles of money.
48 of them wouldn’t know what to show,
47 of them wouldn’t know how to talk about what they show,
46 of them would plan art fairs first, and exhibitions as . . . an afterthought,
45 of them would be mean to their staff and not provide them with health insurance,
44 of them . . .
well, you get the picture.
First walked into the gallery in ’87 when he was still in Chicago. There was, as I recall, a Jeff Koons “Equilibrium” tank, a Richard Prince photo, a Sherrie Levine stripe painting, a Kay Rosen word piece and something by Charlie Ray in the office. Was happy a year later when he moved to New York, and then of course the program shifted, as it had to.
One of the many things I learned from him is acceptance.
I learned a lot from him about art, but equally about being a person.
They really are interwoven, even if the art “world,” in scare quotes, wants to keep them apart, separate people from what they do, make them part with their work,
then they possess the art and, to some extent, possess the artist.
This is not the kind of negativity that Huds would endorse,
and I feel somewhat guilty for going there.
My philosophy about what's important—and what's not—wouldn’t have evolved without him.
To which Jeff Davis responded:
art awe but personhood awe more than anything.
i always felt like he knew something i didn’t know and wanted to know.
Someone once asked, “You followed that gallery and its artists for so long, how is it that you never organized a show at Feature?” And I said, “Because Hudson was his own curator. I couldn’t have been helpful in that way. Over the years I was influenced by him much more than by so-called professional curators. His show titles alone set free association rampant, from the ridiculous to the sublime: “Itsy Bitsy Spider,” “Hairy Forearm’s Self-Referral,” “I Gaze a Gazely Stare,” “Let the great constellation of flickering ashes be heard.”
And then all those that were libidinally charged, without presenting anything unfaithful to a pure, promiscuous quest to be free—even Tom of Finland’s priapic libertines. On the contrary, Hudson linked visual and sensual pleasure on the level of the spiritual, and in this respect these shows were politicized, envisioning a world where energies as diverse as muscle-bound hunks and devotional Tantric drawings would join forces for an even greater liberation movement. It’s all in the mind. A show in Chicago in ’87 was called “Head Sex,” and the one that had the greatest impact on me personally, “Trouble Over So Much Skin,” in New York in ’92. Quite the rejoinder to an opportunistic virus known as the Republican “culture wars.” All of these shows were done in the summer, when it was steamy and people bared more of their bodies than at any other time of the year. There was, most notoriously, “i want that inside me,” last year. Despite the title, the work he chose was meditative and abstract. In 2011 the text he wrote for, “I AM NOT MONOGAMOUS, I HEART POETRY,” concluded: “let the body be the barometer.”
It makes me think of those clueless collectors whose first question is inevitably: “So tell me, who’s hot right now?”
An email came with an amazing picture of a very young Hudson, with hair and laughing ecstatically. This was posted online by his old friend Steve Lafreniere, and he provided the story behind the buoyancy:
Hudson took a road trip by himself from the East Coast to California in 1969. He scored some acid in Colorado, dropped, and by the time he hit the Rockies he was too high to drive. So he pulled over, climbed up the mountain, and took this timer photo of himself “watching the entire planet disintegrate,” as he always told it. Pure joy that it was.
Planning to write a tribute. After hearing that he sold pot brownies at an art fair I thought it might be called:
“Suppose They Gave An Art Fair And Everybody Got Stoned?”
My conclusion is that people would actually look at the art, spend time with it, and in an unguarded way share their ideas with others. Their excitement for what they were seeing would be infectious.
Lisa Beck, then offered, appropriately enough on Valentine’s Day:
it was at the Independent. Sam Gordon made cookies with weed in them.
All the fairs that are coming up, they should all be dedicated to Hudson.
every booth empty. big bowl of LSD-laced punch and a plate of pot brownies in the middle of the room.
see the art inside your head.
love one another.
The next day she wrote back:
To which I could only respond:
You could tell him, but he would surely correct you.
Bob Nickas is a critic based in New York.