Page 3

New York, P.S.1, 1986-1988

P.S.1 was, and to this date, remains a renowned alternative art institution in Queens, NY, that contained exhibition spaces in one wing and 30 large studios available to select young artists in another wing. Hardesty thought his piece might fit into P.S.1's main exhibition room, which had 25-foot ceilings.

Edward Leffingwell, then curator of exhibitions at P.S.1, was intrigued with Hardesty's slides and curious about this monster stucture inside his apartment. He went to visit Hardesty's studio/loft in Manhattan.

"It was like building a ship in a bottle," laughed Leffingwell. "The piece filled the entire loft, making living there absurd. One had to crawl under these giant looming wood arches to get anywhere." Leffingwell seemed impressed, that Hardesty built this giant disc, with no idea of what to do with it, doubting in fact, that it could even be taken down the stairwell to the outside.

Hardesty assured Leffingwell that "...tilted 30 degrees, each section can just make it through the door and down the stairwell with an inch and a half clearance...for fingers." Eccentric maybe, but not stupid.

Hardesty wasn't sure where he could assemble and display it. But if nothing else, he explained to Leffingwell, there was a vacant lot down the block. "I could install it...covertly."

Leffingwell knew what that meant, and sympathized,. He offered Hardesty a difficult choice: either an exhibition in P.S.1's large gallery as Hardesty wanted, or to take a chance and apply for one of P.S.1's highly prized studio spaces.

Hardesty understood full well that the prestige of an installation at P.S.1 would have been a huge career boost. But, he needed workspace even more than an important show. So he applied for the studio space, and was awarded one.

At P.S.1, Hardesty flourished. Every 4 months, over the following 2 years, he completely transformed his studio from one fabulous environment to another, all the while holding down his 9-5 job in midtown Manhattan.

Hardesty was applying lessons learned from Turrell about creating magical spaces with light, into something entirely his own, chiefly by involving other senses than vision.

He'd added to his large sculptural objects, sound, heat, vibrations, even smells. He was playing with the interaction of "sensory components" in a rare and super-charged environment. At times he invented his own machines to do the work required. When he did, he sometimes let his machines be seen as well.

With glass beakers, hoses, lenses, electronics, motors, exotic formed plexiglas, his studio was more like a laboratory than an artist's workspace, One had the sense of an artist on the verge of discovering or inventing something important. Hardesty's installation debuts at P.S. 1 seemed the equivalent of a conclusive science paper, published after much research.

P.S.1's formal exhibition spaces were in the South Wing of the building. During the openings of these curated exhibitions, visitors were also encouraged to roam the North, Studio Wing as well, to visit the resident artists at work.

Hardesty took full advantage of this art crowd, timing the completion of his elaborate installations with P.S.1's exhibition openings. In this way, his finished work was seen by many of New York's art cognoscente. "I still have my guest sign-in books from those exhibits," says Hardesty. "I didn't know it then, but looking at tjhose books now, it's like a Who's Who of the international art world, critics, revierers, museum curators, important artists."

Three Manhattan gallery owners approached Hardesty in his P.S.1 studio. One was Su Yun Yee, owner of a new, alternative artspace in East Soho. Another was the venerable Holly Solomon, widely regarded as a visionary for being one of the first galleries to move into Soho. By 1987, however, her gallery had moved uptown, to posher digs on 57th Street, just across from the newly completed Trump Tower. Hardesty visited her there.

"I could take you on, Michael," Hardesty recalls Soloman's cautioning tone, "but it's problematic. Installation art is nearly impossible to sell. I can sell 10 drawings for every 1 painting. I can sell 10 paintings for every sculpture. And I can sell 10 sculptures for every installation. You do the math. Maybe you could scale your work down just a bit."

"Let me sleep on it," Hardesty replied, making her a gift of one of his drawings, knowing her suggestion, though imminently practical for commercial sales, was bad advice artistically.

During his final studio installation at P.S.1, Leffingwell introduced Hardesty to Wouter Germans Van Eck. The Van Eck Gallery also had a prestigious address, 420 West Broadway, at the time, the "it building" in Soho. Hardesty and Germans Van Eck hit it off instantly, talking about a show. Hardesty convinced Germans to let him create a new piece. Germans took the risk and booked Hardesty's first New York gallery exhibit.

Major Exhibitions, 1987-1996

This was to prove fortuitous for Hardesty. His debut at Geremans Van Eck was not only on prime real estate, but scheduled to open the same evening as Jasper Johns was to unveil new master paintings "The Seasons" at Leo Castelli, one flight up.

These were Hardesty's final months at P.S.1 and he had to quickly find a new space to build his first, very public gallery installation. After a few weeks hitting the bricks, he found an ideal space, much closer than the long 45-minute subway ride to P.S.1.

That autumn, Hardesty moved out of P.S.1 and into a raw warehouse space in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. While it was larger and much closer to home, but again it was a real fixer-upper. For the time, that would have to wait.

The installation he created for Germans Van Eck, "Horizon," was a hit, and seen by a huge crowd on opening night. "It was a beautiful, wintery evening, a throng in the galleries and on the streets, absolutely electric!" recalls Cundiff. "It'd have been hubris to think they showed up for Michael's exhibit, but they all went in."

Hardesty's work was not overlooked. It could not be. It was at street level, clearly visible through large plate-glass windows. Even among the blue-chip talent on the floors above, Hardesty's installation stood out. It elicited articles of praise from the art magazines. John Russell, then art critic of the New York Times, wrote of Hardesty's installation, "Hardesty's auspicious debut...may not be a commercial show, but it is the work of a true poet.

After his almost magical introduction to New York's art world, Hardesty was off and running. Germans Van Eck contracted to represent Hardesty for 3 years, and soon thereafter moved his gallery into a much larger space on the ground floor of the same building.

Hardesty, a notable new talent, began being offered one-person shows in prestigious museums and galleries around the country.

Though he turned most down, Hardesty was also being invited to participate in A-list group shows in New York and abroad. Hardesty explains it this way, "I occasionally made smaller wall works that would fit into such shows, but as an installation artist I was developing a aesthetic inconsistent with the entire concept of group showing.

For instance, many of my smaller pieces have audio as an component. That sound would be a distraction to other artists' works. And the reverse was true as well.

In Pittsburgh I once tried to create a quiet environment ["Blue Field"] while in the room across from mine, a greatly amplified cataclysm of a car wreck played over and over. The crux of my work being about sensory interplay made aesthetic filtering of that loud ambient noise impossible. I'm to the point now where I can no longer mentally separate different types of art in the same room."

"Also," Hardesty explains, "in the late '80s many younger curators developed the irritating aesthetic of hanging group shows, individual works as if they were a single installation. I came to believe that aesthetic disrespectful to stand-alone art, and became a purist defender of an artwork's proper display.

Pretty much all I do now are solo rooms, so that's not an issue anymore, but I still have to minimize outside distraction, ambient light, street noise, etc. in order to fine-tune the thematic forms [like enigmatic spheres] I've established.

I TRY not to be too compulsive about the presentation, but given my art's nature, a bit of compulsiveness is required simply to achieve the basic effect."