Judson Memorial Church in Greenwich Village has agreed to give its extensive archives to the Fales Collection of the New York University Libraries. The materials will be incorporated into the Downtown New York Collection that was begun in Fales in 1995; the Collection is housed in NYU’s Elmer Holmes Bobst Library.
“The Judson Church archives are the granddaddy of Downtown art,” said Marvin Taylor, who heads Fales. “Nearly every artist and writer I have spoken to since we began the Downtown Collection has asked if we have the Judson papers. I’m delighted that now we can say that we do.”
The Rev. Peter Laarman, Judson’s Senior Minister, said that the church was relieved that its rich and important archives will stay in Greenwich Village. “Now anyone interested in researching Judson’s role in the story of avant-garde art and activism will have access to these materials,” Laarman said. “The materials will be preserved intact and housed just a block away from the church.”
Judson’s archives include documents relating to the revolt against Abstract Expressionism among seminal figures who showed their work at the old Judson Gallery. These include Claes Oldenberg, Jim Dine, Robert Rauschenberg, Red Grooms, Tom Wesselman, Marcus Ratliff, Kate Millett, and many others. Judson subsequently became the site of groundbreaking work by artists associated with the Fluxus movement, such as Nam June Paik and Yoko Ono.
Carolee Schneemann, Allan Kaprow and others presented the first “Happenings” at Judson, and the tradition of events sans category was continued in the 1970s and `80s by Meredith Monk and others.
In dance, the Judson Dance Theater, a collective of dancers, composers and visual artists, became “Ground Zero” for the creation of the kind of postmodern dance exemplified by Yvonne Rainer, Steve Paxton, Trisha Brown, Deborah Hay, Lucinda Childs, and others. Concerts were performed in both the Judson Gymnasium and in the sanctuary itself.
In theater, the Judson Poet’s Theater was among the three key Off-Off-Broadway venues that presented early work by Maria Irene Fornes, Lanford Wilson, Sam Shepard and others.
A happy coincidence led to Judson’s decision to entrust NYU with its archives. For years the church struggled on its own to organize and preserve the welter of materials in its storerooms, but the task seemed to be outgrowing the capacities of volunteer archivists. At the same time Judson came to realize that the materials themselves would be at serious risk if they remained in damp overheated rooms. The need to save the materials coincided with the Fales Collection’s desire to significantly expand its holdings in the “prehistory” of performance art.
The ultimate goal of the Downtown New York Collection at Fales is to fully document the Downtown literary and arts scene from the 1970s to the present. It is the only collection of its kind in a major research library and the primary center for the study of the post-Vietnam New York arts scene. Current holdings include the David Wojnarowicz Papers, the Dennis Cooper Papers, and the archives of Fashion Moda, Between C&D, Redtape Magazine, and many more.
In addition to the arts materials, the Judson archives are important from the point of view of mid-twentieth-century social and political history. They document Judson’s involvement in the early civil rights movement, the antiwar movement, and the women’s movement including the fight for abortion rightsas well as the revolt against the old Tammany machine that led to the formation of the Village Independent Democrats and its successor reform clubs. Judson’s archives join the NYU Libraries’ extensive holdings documenting New York City social history contained in the Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives.
Carol Mandel, Dean of the NYU Libraries, said: “Judson’s extraordinary collection will illuminate the history of New York arts, culture, and social thought for centuries to come. We are delighted that the NYU Libraries can serve both the contemporary community and future researchers by providing a secure and accessible home for the archives.”