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#SouthOfUnionSquare, the Birthplace of American Modernism: MORE Artist Studios at 30 East 14th Street

South of Union Square, the Birthplace of American Modernism” is a series that explores how the area south of Union Square shaped some of the most influential American artists of the 20th century.

Throughout the 20th century, the area south of Union Square attracted painters, writers, publishers, and radical social organizations, many of whom were challenging accepted American social and cultural ideals. This area is true crossroads — where art, politics, industry, commerce, the New York elite, and the working class collided to create an eclectic culture and built environment that helped shift the center of the global art world to New York City. In addition to its namesake social realist art movement — the Fourteenth Street School — the neighborhood South of Union Square and its environs were host to a number of influential artists and movements like Abstract Expressionism, the Ninth Street Five, and “The Club.” 

Façade of 30 East 14th Street Artist Studios via Apartments.com.
Facade of 30 East 14th Street in 1959. May Janko and Agnes Hart kept studios there.

One particularly notable collection of artist studios in this neighborhood was located at 30 East 14th Street, a five-story structure built in 1880 as a retail store and lofts for W. Jennings Demorest. In previous posts, we’ve explored the connection between 30 East 14th Street and the artists of the Fourteenth Street School as well as its links to artists Virginia Admiral and Robert De Niro, Sr. However, that is just a small sample of the amazing artists who kept studios in this building. While many of the artists connected to this building created in a more representational style, below we explore the work of two women involved in printmaking and abstraction who kept studios in this building in the late 1950s and early 1960s. 

Moon Valley, May Janko, 1958 in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Walker Art Center.
green brownstone by may janko
Green Brownstone, May Janko
apartment interior by may janko
Apartment Interior, May Janko

May Janko (February 26, 1926 – December 5, 2003) was born in New York City and studied at Hunter College and the Art Students League. She traveled and studied extensively in Europe. Janko’s primary medium was printmaking. Her work is in the collections of the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., the Cincinnati Museum of Art, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Walker Art Collection, and more. Janko’s prints are frequently described as expressionistic, undulating, and “personal.” Her work in the graphic arts garnered her many awards including the Society of American Graphics’ Henry B. Shope Award and the inaugural 1959 Graphic Award of the Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation. She exhibited with Minna Citron, a fellow female printmaker and Art Students League alumna who kept a studio in this building, in print exhibitions across the country.  

weisman umbrellas, lower east side by agnes hart
Weisman Umbrellas, Lower East Side, Agnes Hart
In the Backyard, Agnes Hart
In white oil and sand on umprimed canvas, Agnes Hart, 1975

Agnes Hart (1912-1979) was born in Meridan, Connecticut and studied art at the Ringling Museum of Art in Sarasota, Florida and at Iowa State University. Hart was a prolific painter and printmaker of abstract forms and urban landscapes. In 1948 and 1949, she received fellowships as a guest painter at the Yaddo Foundation, and exhibited her first solo show in New York City at the RoKo Gallery in 1948. Throughout her career she exhibited regularly at New York City galleries. Hart also accepted several teaching positions, including one with the Art Students League of New York along with their Woodstock outpost. In 1972, Hart received the Yasuo Kuniyoshi Fund Memorial Award (Kuniyoshi was yet another artist associated with the Art Students League who kept a studio at 30 East 14th Street) from the Woodstock Artists Association. Hart’s work is characterized by experimentation with the graphic arts, ever-evolving toward a more organic abstraction. Her later work is composed of an innovative combination oil paints and sand that incorporates some of the aesthetics of the land art movement into classical image-making. She continued to paint and teach until her death in 1979.

Agnes Hart and Her Sand Paintings

The list of artists who worked at 30 East 14th Street is long and impressive. An extensive but nowhere near complete list includes W. Hamilton Gibson, George E. Bissell, Samuel Halpert, Charles Keller, Minna Citron, Kenneth Hays Miller, Arnold Blanch, Harry Sternberg, Yasuo Kuniyoshi, Arthur B. Davies, Howard Daum, Robert deNiro, Sr., Virginia Admiral, Edwin Dickenson, Carl Ashby, Edward Laning, George Wiggens, Sam Hartman, Raymond Katz, Josef Presser, N. Cikowsky, Bayard Osborn, Helen Hyde, Howard Baar, M. Ponce de Leon, David Cohen, Ben Myers, and Lora Alkan.

With a new mayoral administration, Village Preservation is releasing new information, programs, and initiatives about the area South of Union Square. To learn more about the neighborhood, check out our new and frequently updated South of Union Square Map and Tours. Village Preservation has recently received a series of extraordinary letters from individuals across the world, expressing support for our campaign to landmark a historic district south of Union Square. To help landmark these incredible historic structures and other buildings in this area, click here

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