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Hip Hop’s 2nd Birthplace, Part 4: Fun Gallery

Hip Hop at 50
This is the fourth in a series of posts that celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Birth of Hip HopOur exploration takes us to the seminal places of Hip Hop’s early days in our neighborhoods and introduces some of the instrumental figures in the downtown world of Hip Hop.

Fun Gallery: 229 East 11th Street

Right across from the Village Preservation office on East 11th Street sits an unassuming, six-story tenement. Constructed in 1901, one of the last of the old law tenements built before the new law was passed, it is now home to a ground-floor dry cleaning business. But this nondescript building played an important role in hip hop history and its transition from a niche culture of Black and Hispanic youths in the Bronx and Brooklyn to the global phenomenon of today. From its opening in 1981 until its closing in 1985, the FUN Gallery played a huge role in exposing the art of graffiti and hip hop culture to a wider audience.

From 1981 to 1982, 229 East 11th Street was the first location of the FUN Gallery, which was founded by Bill Stelling and Patti Astor. Patti Astor moved to the East Village in 1975 and became “Queen of the Downtown Scene.” In late 1980, she met Fab Five Freddy and starred in the seminal graffiti film Wild Style, and in 1981 she met Bill Stelling.

As Astor was filming Wild Style she met graffiti artist Futura 2000 and asked him to create a mural in her East Third Street apartment. She celebrated the completion of the mural with a party that many artists and downtown influencers attended, from which Stelling offered up a space to open an art gallery.

Patti Astor with Keith Haring and LA 2’s The Smurfs at the FUN Gallery in February 1983. Photo by Eric Kroll

As Stelling noted in this 2022 interview: “It was an exciting confluence of visual artists, musicians, filmmakers, performance artists who congregated in the same bars, clubs, restaurants and galleries. Fun Gallery was unique in showcasing work by Black and Hispanic artists who didn’t come from a Talking Heads/RISD “art school background.” We represented their work as fine art. For many East Village hipsters and Park Avenue collectors, it was their first exposure to life above 125th St....The plan was to have each artist name the gallery something different each show; somehow Kenny Scharf’s “Fun Gallery” stuck.

A flier for a Lee Quinones FUN Gallery show. This mural was located on Madison Street in the playground of what was then Junior High School 56

Patti Astor knew many graffiti and hip-hop artists and understood that like the punk artists playing downtown, the uptown rappers and painters used the city as a backdrop and canvas for their work. Unlike the establishment galleries that prioritized art sales, FUN Gallery threw epic parties and welcomed in all artists, neighborhood residents, and kids who actually lived in the East Village. FUN Gallery prioritized art for everyone. 

In October 1981, Fab 5 Freddy and Futura 2000 both had solo exhibitions at the Fun Gallery and Jean-Michel Basquiat’s solo exhibition opened on November 4, 1982.

Flier for a Keith Haring show at FUN Gallery

The gallery gave many graffiti artists – and, significantly, openly gay artists – the opportunity to host their first one-man shows. It was where artists could show their work without losing any of their street cred, including many of the cutting edge artists of the early 1980s, such as Keith Haring, Dondi White, Futura 2000, Kenny Sharf, SHARP, Jane Dickson, and Lady Pink.

Click here to read more about 229 East 11th Street on our East Village Building Blocks website.

This blog was partially adapted from the research done for our 2nd Birthplace Tour (Hip-Hop at 50). We would like to thank the following people and organizations for their invaluable input and support in developing 2nd Birthplace:

Amanda Adams-Louis36 Chambaz of Stylz, Big Tara, CricketDJ SpinnaElena Romero,  Eric “DEAL”FelisbretFlashTalksJames Top, Justine Leguizamo, Keistar ProductionsKyra Gaunt, Leeanne G-Bowley, Martha DiazMichael Holman, and Peaches Rodriguez.

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