oward Wise was, and will remain in the art history of his time, a curious and significant anomaly He directed the Howard Wise Gallery of Present Day Painting in Cleveland from 1957 until 1960, when he moved to New York and committed his aesthetic judgment and considerable resources to representing a circle of artists who were maturing (in some cases coming to full flower) in the fertile interstices of the late rounds of abstract expressionism. These were Milton Resnick, George McNeil, Lee Krasner, Ernest Briggs, Stephen Pace, Edward Dugmore, Fred Mitchell, Hugo Wolf, George Ortman among the painters; and Michael Lekakis, David Weinrib and Abraham Shlemowitz among the sculptors.
Located on 57th Street, the physical space was as distinguished as any gallery in New York. Designed by Philip Johnson, it possessed an insouciant elegance that yet remained cooly unobtrusive toward the work exhibited. You entered a chamber appointed with all the elements of a public domain and simultaneously you felt like you were entering someone's very comfortable, private salon.
In New York between 1958 and 1962, more or less, there were profound upheavals and serious challenges to the dominance of abstract expressionism and the New York School. The 8th Street Club was still meeting; the Cedar Tavern, at its original location on 8th Street, remaining the watering hole and Delphic oracle for various voices holding forth on the future of painting and sculpture. The artist-run galleries, the most influential being the Tanager and the 1014, clustered around 10th Street and Third Avenue, were paradoxically at their height as well as the beginning of their decline. Claes Oldenburg had opened his "store” near by on Third Avenue, with a window full of plaster polychromed ray-guns and slices of pie-throwing a curveball into the dicey Squad of second generation ab-ex, "happening” and the initial manifestations of pop art. A culmination was Andy Warhol's faux Del Monte, Brillo, and Campbell's packing boxes, stacked floor-to-ceiling at the Stable Gallery in 1962.
Such was the ideational turmoil when Howard Wise opened his gallery in New York. At first the gallery provided a safe haven for the painterly abstractionists who were engaged in active conflict with both the pop artists, including Rauschenberg and Johns, and the Greenbergian formalists, Paul Feeley, Kenneth Noland, Jules Olitski, Helen Frankenthaler, David Smith, and Anthony Caro, among others who were coming into their own. In the initial phase of its 10-year existence, the Wise-gallery was distinctly a showcase for the painterly abstractionists.
The second phase began in the mid-'60s when the gallery suddenly became the primary champion of kinetic sculpture and other thematic variants in which the art employed elements of high technology. The shift appeared to be a 180-degree turnabout, but actually it was gradual, with the gallery showing Lee Krasner as late as 1966. It demonstrated Wise's rather radical in dependence of spirit, if not his risky sense of ambition of opening up other options to the formalist and pop canon.
During this phase, it is enduringly clear in retrospect, the gallery made a vivid difference in the dense New York scene. Wise exhibited the work of Takis, Len Lye, Jean Depuy, Minuro Nizuma, Julio Le Parc, Howard Jones, Michael Hayden, Tony Martin, Wen Ying Tsai, and Gerald Oster. From magnets to moire patterns, from whirling bands of steel to the frequency-directed sounds and dirges emitted from aluminum rectangles vertically elongated, from vibrating fields of steel rods to coor- dinated floods of light, the gallery showed the spectrum of the possible uses of technologies redirected toward unanticipated aesthetic ends.
Two shows stand out in particular. In 1966 one entered the gallery for Len Lye's installation of banded loops of sheet steel, four to a wall, suspended from the ceiling, and rotating at high, moderate, or slow speed, but never in synchrony. A random timing device was apparently programing the velocity, interval, and duration of each individual piece. This introduced the sequential-temporal into the sculptural experience. When the loops of steel were rotating at high velocities, they became a spinning blur, as if transparent like an airplane propeller. When they slowed down they passed through an odd phase of being both a ghostly blur and a discernible object gyrating in space. Moreover, they made sounds, haunting reflections of their state of activity-the more transparent the blur, the higher the aural whine. In the spring of 1967 Wise showed the magnetic sculptures of Takis, With their spare, no frills, engineered presence, these works, at first pass, were hardly distinguishable from laboratory instruments. How. ever they shortly shed their technomorphic aura, radiating a sort of celebration of the elemental laws of physics. In the presence of this work one was at the doorway that led uncannily from the efficient precision of science to the rigor of a formalist, minimalist art.
In this period, Wise took on Group Zero, a circle of German artists involved with similar issues, especially concerning the explicit use of metallic surfaces and reflecting, mirage-like expanses of light. Hans Haacke, Otto Piene, Heinz Mack, and Gunter Uecker all employed newly available industrial materials for quirky, unpredictable, optical and phenomenological effects.
The gallery's final phase in 1969-70 ex. tended the principles inherent in kinetic sculpture to a fledgling and marginal medium, video. Wise was the first to stick his neck out, throwing the gallery's full weight behind this new genre. A ragtag gaggle of artists and visionary electronic engineers had been trying to bring recognition to video produced by themselves and other artists rather than the monopolistic mega-corporations who produced that vulgar, pedestrian experience called TV. With the introduction in 1967 of the Sony CV standard portable reel-to-reel video recording and instant playback system, experimentation intensified. A previously highly centralized medium like television was now placed in the hands of subjectively-driven individuals. In the spring of 1969, Wise gathered works by Nam June Paik and Charlotte Moorman from the Fluxis group, minimalist and cybernetic multichannel installations by Paul Ryan and Ira Schneider, and the romantic and utopian visions of Eric Siegel and Thomas Tadlock. With an amalgam of highly divergent artists working with the same technology, Wise assembled the first exhibition exclusively devoted to video, “TV as a Creative Medium." The reverberations of this show can hardly be overestimated. The new genre received serious critical attention, attracted other artists to take up the medium, and inspired new exhibitions in its wake. Within a year, in January, 1970, video had its first museum survey show at the Rose Art Museum at Brandeis University. It was curated by Russell Conner and accompanied with a catalogue. From there, video evolved exponentially with solo and group shows in Europe and the U.S. The rest of the narrative is intertwined with the art history of the past 20 or more years.
Wise concluded his gallery's activity in the fall of 1970, returning to its sources in kinetic sculpture with a show of Moholy-Nagy which featured a working replica of his "LightSpace Modulator" originally constructed in 1930. After closing the gallery, Wise founded and managed Electronic Arts Intermix, the first organization to distribute artists' video tapes and provide, at the most generous terms, a post-production facility for editing, processing, and reproducing such tapes. Electronic Arts Intermix, located in Soho in the heart of video culture, recently celebrated its 20th anniversary, a fitting memorial to Howard Wise's vision of art in the age of electronic reproduction.
He was born in 1906 to a prosperous industrial family in Cleveland, educated at Clair College, Cambridge, where he received a degree in constitutional law, traveled extensively in Europe and North Africa, spent time in Paris with the likes of Miro, then returned to America and to the family business. With sharp wit and astute investment skill, he turned his attention to connoisseurship in the visual arts, concluding a long and productive life by becoming the chief patron, the god. father, so to speak, of the aesthetic form unique to the late 20th century He died peacefully at his house in Wellfleet in the summer of 1989 with his wife Barbara by his side. From this sort of story, genuine myths are woven.
Frank Gillette's "Wipe Cycle," a television mural of nine monitors using delayed and live feedback, was presented at the Wise Gallery's 1969 exhibition, "TV as a Creative Medium.' He is the director of Electronic Arts Intermix.
Provincetown Arts 1992 • 128 - 129