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