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From September 1970 to March 1971, a representative from Jean Freeman Gallery placed half- and full-page advertisements in the leading American art magazines—Artforum, Art in America, Arts Magazine, and ARTnews—as well as one issue of the Art Gallery Magazine and the inaugural issue of Avalanche, for one group exhibition and six solo shows. The gritty subject matter and serial nature of the photographs in the ads indicated that the gallery specialized in Earthworks, Postminimalism, and Conceptual art. As it turned out, neither Jean Freeman nor the address of the space, listed as 26 West Fifty-Seventh Street in the heart of Manhattan’s gallery district, was real. (Street numbers on the block run from 16 to 20, 24 to 28, and so on.)
The advertisements, accompanied by press releases and publicity images sent to critics and publications, were concocted by the artist Terry Fugate-Wilcox. His seven-month-long project was more than just a hoax—it was an exceptionally clever embodiment of many important aspects of Conceptual art (photographic documentation, dematerialized objects and ephemeral events, typeset text, work made and presented outside the white cube, etc.) as well as an incisive critique of superficial aspects of the art world at the end of the sixties. Unfortunately, Fugate-Wilcox’s project is all but forgotten after forty-five years. To anyone thumbing through vintage art magazines today, Jean Freeman is one of many galleries that have faded from art-historical memory. All those unfamiliar names—who are they, and where are they now?
The Jean Freeman Gallery Does Not Exist provides a close reading of the visual material that Fugate-Wilcox created for the seven fictitious exhibitions and contextualizes them within the New York art scene and the world at large. The book also chronicles the trajectory of Fugate-Wilcox’s career in the first monographic treatment of this artist, concentrating on work from the late 1960s to the late 1980s. The study contextualizes Jean Freeman ads among better-known examples of magazine-based work (by Judy Chicago, Dan Graham, Ray Johnson, Stephen Kaltenbach, Hans Koetsier, Robert Morris, Yoko Ono) and how they relate to other inaccessible galleries, like when Robert Barry closed three galleries that were hosting his exhibition. Artists back then recognized the importance of publications in disseminating their work and leveraged the printed page to their advantage. In addition, Fugate-Wilcox conceived of Jean Freeman Gallery at a time when dealers showing the most forward-thinking art (Leo Castelli, Virginia Dwan, John Gibson, Reese Palley, Howard Wise) were also producing the most visually compelling promotional materials.
The Jean Freeman Gallery Does Not Exist, to be published in fall 2018, excavates a new history of art from a time and place many feel they already know well. The book deals not just with the fictitious gallery, but also the intersection of Manhattan galleries and magazine publishing, exploring the workings of Artforum, Art in America, and the others at a pivotal aesthetic moment.
Fugate-Wilcox regularly exhibited his work in New York for many years—he was represented by James Yu and Louis K. Meisel in the 1970s, staged a three-part solo show at the historic 112 Greene Street, executed several public artworks throughout the city into the 1980s, and sold his work outside the traditional gallery system after that. The Jean Freeman Gallery Does Not Exist presents the first scholarly account of the activities of an overlooked artist, launching an inquiry into a larger body of work that other historians and critics will most certainly pursue.