The Artists Who Defined the East Village’s Avant-Garde Scene

By 1981 in New York City, the contemporary art scene was a booming business, with SoHo as its epicenter. Dealers like Leo Castelli, Ileana Sonnabend and Mary Boone championed artists such as David Salle and Julian Schnabel, whom critics labeled Neo-Expressionists, and whose style appealed to a growing art market willing to pay large sums of money for young painters. But just a few blocks and a world away — in the East Village — a smaller but no less important community of galleries was emerging as well, a kind of conceptual and anti-commercial satellite orbiting the art world’s mainstream.

What was the East Village art scene? A historical footnote? A cautionary tale? A sincere artistic movement? It was a little of all of these things. Artists and writers from Peter Hujar to Allen Ginsberg had long populated the neighborhood; in the early ’80s many of them

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