Graphic by Shari Flores for Hyperallergic

Our work at Hyperallergic means that we often encounter stories of under-recognized art histories that tell a story we don’t often hear, whether it’s about an art movement that has received little recognition outside of a city or region or a type of work that is largely invisible to art lovers because institutions have been slow to embrace the work due to various factors. While we often seek out and publish under-recognized art histories, we decided to compile many of these unique stories into a special edition of Hyperallergic to shine a light on them. To understand contemporary art, it is necessary to investigate the connections that are sometimes invisible to those who are unaware of the backstories.

Many of these stories, like alternative spaces in Los Angeles, may be well-known to many but we chose to include them here to highlight their importance. In the case of LA’s alt spaces, I frequently encounter people outside Southern California (and sometimes Californians) who don’t realize the significance of what the artistic innovators of that city actually created as a foundation that helped lead to the global success of the city’s art scene today. In other cases, like the Cass Corridor, I was surprised to learn that people outside of the Detroit area rarely know about the movement that was influential for many contemporary artists, writers, and curators in the region and beyond. 

A number of stories focus on individuals, like Rafael França, Sam Tchakalian, PHASE 2, Frances Gearhart, Renluka Maharaj, and Suchitra Mattai, some of whom had commercial careers, museum shows, and some renown, or still do, but we thought they would benefit from a wider circulation of their work to the readers of Hyperallergic. We also invited artist and writer Daniel Temkin to write about a programming language that might be the least NFT-able digital art possible — though considering the way that market is going, I can foresee a time when that too falls victim to financialization. 

Our choices are, of course, subjective, and we invite notes from our readers about stories we may want to consider for future editions in this series. We hope you enjoy this edition in the spirit it was intended, which is as the beginning of a continuing conversation about art history and what is included, or excluded, and why.

  • Jordan Karney Chaim looks at the influence of the alternative spaces of Los Angeles and how they foster artists who are today the bold-faced names of contemporary art.
  • Sarah Rose Sharp, who lives in Detroit, writes about the Cass Corridor movement that influenced generations of artists emerging from that city.
  • Artist Daniel Temkin writes about the open-ended, community-based, and collaborative esolangs that point to other threads of digital art histories not much discussed.
  • Writer John Seed tells the story of Bay Area artist and teacher Sam Tchakalian, who is best known for his abstractions that introduced squeegee-like techniques into his paintings long before others popularized that visual language.
  • Sadaf Padder writes about two Indo-Caribbean artists (Renluka Maharaj and Suchitra Mattai) in Colorado who situate female subjects in their art, based on ancestors, living kin, and deities.
  • Scholar Serouj Aprahamian shares the final illustrated poems by PHASE 2, an artist perhaps best known as the first to create a 3D sculpture based on his graffiti work, which was once in front of the Javits Center in Manhattan until it was suddenly removed and destroyed under strange circumstances.
  • Ela Bittencourt considers the innovation of Brazilian video artist Rafael França, whose art is intertwined with the early history of AIDS in the US and his home country. 
  • Anne Wallentine writes about the print studio of Frances Gearhart, which was a hub of the southern California Arts and Crafts movement.

We would also like to thank the Sam Francis Foundation for their support of the articles that delve into California art history, a topic we’ve long covered in various ways over the years.

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Hrag Vartanian

Hrag Vartanian is editor-in-chief and co-founder of Hyperallergic. You can follow him at @hragv.