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CHARLIE AHEARN ON Fun Gallery.

BILL STELLING: "I asked Patti if she knew any artists, maybe they could do some shows at a tiny storefront I was using then as a textile studio at 229 East 11th Street. She said sure, and, using my tax return as funds, I bought a case of beer to begin the season."

Patti Astor: "I was meeting all the graffiti artists while we were getting the Wild Style movie together and I asked Futura 2000 to paint a mural in my East Third Street apartment. I celebrated the event with an Art Opening Barbeque. Futura was spraying this gorgeous mural and Kenny [Scharf] (calling himself Van Chrome) came by and . . . began 'customizing' all my appliances, gluing his little figures all over my refrigerator and stove. Keith [Haring] and Fred [Brathwaite] were there, and Diego [Cortez] showed up with [then-corporate art adviser] Jeffrey Deitch."

The inaugural show at the not-yet-named space, by Patti Astor's ex-husband Steven Kramer, was held in August 1981. "We thought each artist should get to choose a new name for the gallery," she said, "and [for the second show] Kenny chose the name 'Fun Gallery.' Fred considered changing it to 'Serious Gallery' for his show, but we decided to keep it 'Fun.'" For each exhibition in the eight-by-twenty-five-foot space, the artist got to redo the gallery decor. Scharf created an "Atoms Can Be Fun" front window with doomed, melting figures. Dondi White flooded the Fun with graffiti heads collected from every borough in New York. Jane Dickson painted the space neon green to hang her gritty cityscapes on vinyl. Lee Quinones horrified the neighbors by covering the front with a huge sprayed "MOM."

In summer of '82, the Fun moved to a roomier storefront on Tenth between First and A. Scharf's black-light installation kicked off the 1982 season. He recalled: "I felt like it was Kenny's art camp, because all these kids from Avenue A would hang around watching me work." With the sale of Scharf's "apocalyptic fun" painting Whooaa Nelly!, 1982, the feeding frenzy really began. Jean-Michel Basquiat, working like a madman, created his rawest show for Fun, chopping up the space with a maze of half-constructed walls. Limos crammed the street for the opening. St. Joe Louis Surrounded By Snakes, 1982, hanging casually in the front window, was being considered by Paul Simon when Rene Ricard flew across the room, claiming that Jean had promised him the painting.

Ten thousand Haring posters heralded Keith and L.A. II's show in February 1983. They bombed the Fun with their trademark squiggles and showed leather skins and plaster Smurfs covered with tags. Stelling: "I remember opening the door and getting hit by a blast of pot smoke and grape-flavored gum. The whole building was shaking with the DJ music and too many people."

But Fun's decline was as rapid as its rise. By the fourth season, sales were drying up and the whole world seemed to be changing to a grimmer reality. While hanging Nicolas A. Moufarrege's exquisite needlepoint Pop in March 1985, Stelling and Astor would ride the "Funmobile" up to the north Bronx to visit Moufarrege, who lay dying in the hospital. "We didn't even know what AIDS was," Stelling said.

"Sink or Swim," the gallery's group show in June 1985, was to be its last. The Fun was over, and soon the entire East Village art scene would be as well.

Charlie Ahearn is a writer and filmmaker who lives in New York.
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Author:Ahearn, Charlie
Publication:Artforum International
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 1, 1999
Words:580
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