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Joan Mitchell’s Village

Joan Mitchell working on Bridge, 1957, in her studio, 60 Saint Marks Place, New York, 1957. Photo: Joan Mitchell and Rudy Burckhardt. Courtesy Artforum.

Joan Mitchell (February 12, 1925 – October 30, 1992) is one of the most well-known New York Abstract Expressionist painters. Born and raised in Chicago, Mitchell moved to New York City in 1949 after graduating from the Art Institute of Chicago and completing a fellowship in France. Naturally, she settled in Greenwich Village and the surrounding neighborhoods, as they were the center of the nascent Abstract Expressionist art movement. Here, we chart Joan’s movements through the Village over her nearly two decades in the neighborhood before moving to Vétheuil, France.

267 West 11th Street: Greenwich Village Historic District – First New York Studio

267 West 11th Street circa 1940.

Joan Mitchell and her partner Barney Rossett moved to Greenwich Village in 1949 to be at the center of New York’s cutting edge art and literary movements. Upon arrival, Mitchell enmeshed herself with painters Willem de KooningElaine de KooningFranz KlineGrace Hartigan, and Jackson Pollock and poets Frank O’Hara and John Ashbery.

267 West 11th Street today.

59 West 9th Street: Greenwich Village Historic District – Second New York Studio  

59 West 9th Street circa 1940.

In her time on West 9th Street, Joan Mitchell became a part of the downtown scene, spending time at the Cedar Bar and participating in discussions at “The Club.” Mitchell had solo exhibitions at the Saint Paul Gallery and School of Art in Saint Paul, Minnesota, and Bank Lane Gallery in Lake Forest, Illinois.

59 West 9th Street, today.

51 West 10th Street: Greenwich Village Historic District – Joan Mitchell and Barney Rosset’s Apartment (No longer extant)

59 West 10th Street circa 1940.

In 1951, Mitchell moved to 10th Street and participated in the 9th Street Exhibition of Paintings and Sculpture organized by Leo Castelli and the Artists’ Club. She studied Art History at Columbia University and French at New York University. Here she helped to estab­lish the avant-garde publishing company Grove Press with husband Barney Rosset.

59 West 10th Street today.

60 St. Marks Place: Unprotected – Joan Mitchell’s First Apartment Following Divorce from Barney Rosset

60 St. Mark’s Place circa 1940.

Mitchell lived at 60 St. Mark’s Place from 1952 to 1958. In this space she created a body of work set apart in her oeuvre for its sheer energy, quality, and finesse. Propping her canvas against one wall in this studio, Mitchell would stand right up against its surface, immersing herself in the physicality of the painterly act before moving far away to the opposite wall to take a prolonged pause and consider her progress. Bridge and Cherchez l’aiguille were created at the zenith of this period of intense production and inspiration, and articulates all of the most celebrated technical and stylistic aspects of Mitchell’s corpus.

Joan Mitchell, The Bridge, 1956. Oil on canvas, 45 3/4 x 70 3/8 inches (116.205 x 178.753 cm). © Estate of Joan Mitchell.
Joan Mitchell, Cherchez l’aiguille, 1958.
60 St. Mark’s Place today.

Cedar Tavern: Proposed South of Union Square Historic District – 82 University Place (Altered beyond recognition)

Cedar Tavern circa 1950.
Norman Bluhm, Joan Mitchell, and Franz Kline at Cedar Tavern, 1957. Photo by Arthur Swoger, courtesy RISD.

The famous Cedar Tavern was the number one hangout for Joan Mitchell and other New York School artists like Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Robert Motherwell, Mark Rothko, and Franz Kline, just to name a few. They gathered here at least every other night to drink, socialize, and discuss art. In fact, it is often said that it was here that Abstract Expressionism was born and bred. The tavern changed locations several times, but in 1945 it moved to 24 University Place, where it experienced its heyday. Pollock and the like were fond of the Cedar for its cheap drinks (15 cents a beer, to be exact) and its unpretentious location on then off-the-beaten-track University Place. Long after its prime, the Cedar Tavern moved to a now-much-altered building at 82 University Place.

82 University Place today.

The Club: 39 East 8th Street (No longer extant)

39 East 8th Street circa 1940.

Joan Mitchell was also a member of the predominantly male Eighth Street Club (The Club), founded by artists of the New York School. For many, this was more than a meeting place to discuss intellectual and artistic ideas. The Club was a kind of “church” or “group therapy” center, a place to play music and dance, and enjoy each other’s company. It has been said that the epicenter of the New York art world was really The Club.

The former location of “The Club.”

9th Street Art Exhibition of Paintings and Sculpture: 60 East 9th Street

60 East 9th Street circa 1940.

Joan Mitchell was invited to participate in the landmark Ninth Street Show of Abstract Expressionist art which opened on May 21, 1951. For Joan’s part, she contributed an exuberant abstract canvas nearly six feet square, despite the official request for smaller works, given the crowded nature of the show. Leo Castelli, the curator of the show, helped her lug the large painting by foot across town to be hung.

The now legendary Ninth Street Show, a ‘coming out’ of sorts for the post-war New York avant-garde art scene, began as a whimsical idea, but ended up literally overturning the hegemony of the uptown artists and art dealers over the art world in the mid-20th century New York art scene.  The show was to become the catalyst that altered the landscape of art history, moving the western world’s cultural center away from Paris to New York.

60 East 9th Street today.

To learn more about artists in the neighborhood South of Union Square, visit our Urban Archive Artists Tour. To help save important unprotected sites in our neighborhoods, visit Village Preservation’s Advocacy Campaigns page.

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