Gallery 98 is one of the few mass email blasts that I look forward to receiving once, twice, sometimes three times a week. It is the product of Marc H Miller, an artist, curator, writer, publisher and educator, who lived at 98 Bowery from 1968 until 1989. His multifaceted career is unified by an interest in pictorial images, much of it paper ephemera and documentation from before the Bowery’s gentrification.
Over 10 years ago, Miller launched the website 98Bowery.com, a compendium of pictorial projects he created for exhibitions and publications during the years he lived on the Bowery. All of the stories hew closely to Miller’s life and to the broader bohemian world of music and art that surrounded him in downtown New York during the 1970s and ’80s.
The current website expands on the first iteration with pages of art ephemera (vintage announcement cards, posters, etc.) that come from Gallery 98, an online store Miller started In 2005. The website includes three online versions of important out-of-print publications: the catalog for the exhibition “Lives” by Jeffrey Deitch (1975); the “Punk Art” exhibition catalog published by the Washington Project for the Arts (1978); and the book ABC No Rio: The Story of a Lower East Side Art Gallery (1985), published by the artist group COLAB.
This ephemera has become increasingly more essential to constructing histories of modern culture and is generally inspiring. I asked Miller to discuss his leap into this demimonde of paper avant gardifacts.
When did you open Gallery 98, and why?
I actually have two websites. The first is 98bowery.com, which is an autobiographical account of my art world involvement from 1969–1989. I got the idea to start Gallery 98 when I was posting a section on the book ABC No Rio Dinero: The Story of a Lower East Side Art Gallery (1985), which I co-edited with Alan W. Moore. I realized that I had large amounts of ephemera and that people might have more interest if it was for sale. I think this was around 2011. I didn’t take the gallery idea too seriously at first but things began to sell and I dug deeper into the boxes of cards that I had accumulated over the years. Things changed dramatically around 2015, when I was able to purchase a massive collection of art ephemera (there must have been at least 50,000 items) dating from the early 1970s to the late 1980s. It’s at this time that it became a serious business.
When I started Gallery 98, I was primarily concerned with promoting my downtown artist friends and preserving the history of what I had been involved in. Over time the content of the site has expanded considerably. I now have far more cards and posters from the Gagosian Gallery than from Fashion Moda. I’ve also been fortunate in acquiring more and more items from Europe. My fantasy is that someday the site will cover the whole history of Postwar art through art ephemera. It would then be more of a research site than an online store. That’s why I don’t remove items after they are sold.
What was your career up to this project?
I came to New York from California in 1968, eventually getting a Ph.D. in art history from The Institute of Fine Arts, NYU. I also had conceptual art ambitions. My first show at OK Harris Gallery in 1973 sold out! Later, I became a curator; credits include the first punk art show at the Washington Project for the Arts in 1978, Louis Armstrong: A Cultural Legacy, which was supported by the NEH and the Smithsonian and traveled to major venues around the country, including the National Portrait Gallery and the New Orleans Museum of Art (1994–1996). Most recently, I curated an exhibition on The Ramones at The Queens Museum, which traveled to the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles. Please take a look at the 98 Bowery website. There is a whole lot more there (including works that involved Al Goldstein).
How long have you been acquiring the ephemera of the Village alternative art scenes?
From the beginning, I was involved with the counterculture fringes of the art world. I have never considered myself an art dealer but I guess I have become one. I’m a pack rat who throws every paper item I acquire into boxes, which I then mark with dates. Andy Warhol would call these boxes “time capsules.”
Much of the material that you’ve offered is just a little time-shy of my involvement in the East Village counter culture. What is so compelling about your areas of interest?
The downtown world that you were involved in is what brought me to New York. I was a pot-smoking California hippie interested in sex, drugs and rock and roll. Andy Warhol and The Velvet Underground were magnets. Back in 1967, I traveled in Mexico using as my guide Mexico on Five Dollars a Day. There were so many veiled drug references that I became curious who wrote the book. It was John Wilcock. More reasons to move to New York.
You have a run of the East Village Eye, which began immediately after The East Village Other. What is the historical significance of this publication?
I had a column, “Miller’s Memorabilia,” that ran in the East Village Eye from 1983–1986. The Eye filled a void left after the demise of the East Village Other. Both publications were sort of undisciplined so it’s difficult to categorize their similarities and differences. Leonard Abrams, the publisher of The Eye, may have had more delusions about going mainstream. The East Village Other successfully expressed what being a hippie in New York in the 1960s was all about. The Eye was not one thing, it rolled with the waves, catching a succession of cultural moments from punk and no wave music to the East Village art scene and the politics of gentrification.
Your email blasts announcing various ephemeral artifacts come out quite frequently, suggesting a wealth of ever-increasing material. Does this mean that you have considerable space for your holdings?
Gallery 98 is an online gallery. Emails and social media are crucial for bringing people to the site. I have a relatively large office space in Fort Greene where I store everything, and with an assistant post new items and ship orders. It’s the DIY spirit of the early 1970s! Fortunately, art ephemera is small in size. Although, I also need a storage space. Ironically, my desire to get rid of things was one of the motivating forces in starting Gallery 98. Now I have much much more.
I neglected to mention that you are a publisher as well …
What does your audience have to look forward to?
The next big thing is a new and totally revamped website for Gallery 98. We’ll be adding a cart, so most items will need to be priced. No doubt there will be many new things. Every week I’m approached by people (mostly my age) who want to get rid of items they collected.
I know the feeling …