Ellary Eddy

I was the newly appointed director of the Beard's Fund when the request from Colab came in. It sounded wild, so I headed over to see what these guys were up to. It was a total scene. Someone could have made a reality show out of it. Artists Gone Wild.

I think it was John Ahearn who led me through the site. Artists were still mounting things and the plea was urgent—they needed cash ASAP. This was maybe a week before the show was supposed to open. I looked around and felt the hair rise on the back of my neck; there was some seriously challenging work here. Basquiat, Otterness, Dickson, Coe . . . Some of the artists I'd never encountered before and much of the work was raw, sexually explicit, and either searingly political or nihilistic. Although some of the work was truly powerful, I knew that a purely aesthetic appraisal was not the point; I quickly concluded that this show had to go on.

Exhilarated by the scandalous nature of it all, I headed back to my loft office to see what I could maneuver. The prospect was a bit daunting. I would be staking my newly formed reputation on this wild-assed collective of Manhattan/Bronx cultural renegades.

There was another hurdle: the Beard's Fund operated on quarterly panel meetings and long written assessments. This emergency appeal would have to break the mold. I'd been through one round and, despite my own background as a recent art-school graduate, had acquitted myself with enough executive flourish to make the grade. Pitching on behalf of this crew might truly chuck my fledgling career into the Times Square dumpster. All the more reason to proceed. I am an artist first, I said to myself, and the reason I gravitated to this Fund was to help my peers.

I called the patroness, the extraordinary Sandra Payson, and explained the importance of the show, likened it to the Salon des Refuses. I urged her to offer the highest grant, which in the early eighties was the not-insignificant sum of five grand. She thought this way too lavish for such an enterprise. I countered that this show would make art history and, since the aegis of the Fund was to foster experimentation in the arts, we had to be a part of it. She finally assented to the first-ever "emergency" grant of four thousand bucks. I was chuffed.

A few days later, a visit for Sandra was arranged. I had arrived earlier and delivered the check. Although I ran around downtown in a black pleather jacket and pointy black boots, I dressed in my one grown-up looking navy suit and white peter pan collared blouse. I gritted my teeth as her limo pulled up. Sandra entered the first floor and I could sense her stiffening... She was a very tall, statuesque woman, and although a bit of an iconoclast herself, she was of an era and a milieu in which raunchiness and vulgarity were rare. Sandra was the daughter of Joan Whitney Payson—the founder of the Mets, and part of the esteemed philanthropic Whitney family. The walls of her apartment on Sutton Place were hung with Renoirs and Monets. Bringing her to this den of iniquity—what the hell was I thinking?

She lifted her nose ever so slightly in the air as John and I escorted her through the space. As I recall, it was still in a disheveled state, and of course works were hung with thumbtacks and tape. She quickly picked up the pace and soon we were following in her wake. But before we climbed the staircase to the airless top floor, John took the lead, chattering I am sure about how avant-garde it all was. I myself hadn't even seen the installation, but as we entered I gulped. Sandra's head brushed the array of paper fans hung from the ceiling, each one printed with an identical black-and-white photograph. My eyes turned as hers did, to focus on the image—a graphic depiction of a fist doing something astounding to a man's rear end. My jaw dropped and Sandra, in what felt like the slow motion one supposedly experiences just before one's death, turned and vanished downstairs. I looked at John, smiled faintly and charged downstairs.

She strode into the street, climbed into her limo and slammed the door before I could reach her. Just before the car pulled away, the window slid down. "I'll talk to you tomorrow," she said darkly, and the silver-blue limo sped off into the chaos of Times Square.

In a state of shock, I walked back into the massage parlor to find John and handful of artists standing around with slightly guilty looks on their faces. I laughed. "Well, that about brings my career in philanthropy to a screeching halt." With which John guffawed and yelled, "That's it guys, we got the dough. You can pull all the stuff off the walls now." It was all too perfect. Whatever happened next, it was a great moment.

Sandra called the next day and told me she realized this show reflected the state of things in the art world, and she wanted to support it. She was a great and adventurous character; I wish she was still with us. And John Ahearn rewarded my efforts by doing a live cast of me in his Bronx Studio. I think I was his first white model. Made me feel like kind of an honorary citizen of Colab—a true distinction.

June 17, 2012

Ellary Eddy (b. New York, NY)
Ellary Eddy played a crucial role in securing funding for the Times Square Show (1980). As director of the Beard’s Fund in 1981 and 1982 she helped Eric Bogosian, Bill T. Jones, and Franklin Furnace, among others, receive grants. Additional information is available at http://www.ellaryeddy.com.

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