239 Thompson St, New York, NY 10012
In 1959, the Judson Gallery was founded in the church’s basement at 239 Thompson Street, which displayed work by Pop and conceptual artists Robert Rauschenberg, Yoko Ono, Claes Oldenburg, and Red Grooms—and was home to several Happenings.
Al Hansen’s long, strange trip began when he served as a GI in post–World War II Germany, where he impulsively pushed a piano off the edge of a bombed-out building. He always considered that his first performance piece, and even reprised it as the Yoko Ono Piano Drop during his involvement in the Fluxus art movement, when he appeared at the Judson Gallery and many other downtown spaces. (Fluxus artists often named pieces after their friends, in a sort of intertextual social networking game.) “Al Hansen was one of these crazy figures that marries all of these scenes together,” said his daughter, Bibbe Hansen. “He’s the connect-the-dots guy between the post–World War II beatnik to neo-Dada to Pop Art and Fluxus and Happenings and performance art and Intermedia.” He was a roommate of Beat poet Gregory Corso, and when Bibbe was a young teen she lived in a Lower East Side apartment with Janet Kerouac, daughter of Jack Kerouac. Bibbe also tagged along with her father to see underground film screenings at Jonas Mekas’s loft that were attended by Andy Warhol, with whom she would later collaborate on a couple of films (she also appeared in some of Jonas Mekas’s films).
From Chapter 9 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore
For Walter Michael Harris, Harry Koutoukas was like a colorful uncle and a guardian angel all rolled into one. They got to know each other during a production of Pomegranada, an experimental opera that debuted in the choir loft at the Judson Poet’s Theater in March 1966. Harris played drums along with pianist and Judson artistic director Al Carmines. Pomegranada featured a butterfly and a peacock and other creatures that were innocent until a mirror entered their lives, and they learned about a thing called vanity. “I’m superb and exquisite too / Oh, that’s me, and to think I never knew / I never knew how beautiful I was,” the creatures sang. The show was about how narcissism can destroy beauty, as Harris explained: “Harry was a social critic, and he played a lot with mythical tropes, but with a lot of camp.”
From Chapter 13 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore