Monday, February 17, 2014


Drawing of Hudson by Michael St. John

Last week Hudson, the owner of Feature gallery died.  He was 63.  His death was sudden.  In the last few years I was fortunate to get to know Hudson more personally.  I did not know him very well but his loss extends beyond the personal as it is a loss to the art world and especially to New York’s. 

People like Hudson are rare.  Rare is odd, different, against the grain and singular.  The way he ran his gallery and interacted with artists, professional peers and to strangers seems the counter to how the rest of the art world functions.  Everything was personal.  Everything was done with purpose and with a poignancy that was constant and deep.

Below is an email which was the first time I glimpsed Hudson’s nature.  He sent to me out of the blue after I wrote about B. Wurtz’s show at Metro Pictures on this very little blog of mine.

Subject: wurtz > feature > hudson > u

hello jamie1, terif wurtz review. u nailed him and his stuff.
love ur candidness and direct approach, its the way to go.
will put you on feature inc.'s e list
and keep you in my reading.
sin cerely, hudson feature inc.

The idiosyncrasies of the way he wrote made my heart go boom a little.

Hudson was a force, a slow, serene yet with penetrating gaze type of force.   His loss is so felt because we forget that things can be different and loosing him makes this seem harder since we have lost one of the few that were steadfastly creating the world they wanted to live in. 

Below is his obit by Roberta Smith from The New York Times.

Hudson, you will be missed.

Hudson, Gallerist and Nurturer of Artists, Dies at 63
By Roberta Smith, February 16, 2014

Hudson, a former dancer and performance artist known only by his last name, who went on to become one of the most prescient, independent-minded and admired gallerists of his generation, died on Feb. 10 at his home in Manhattan. He was 63.

Jimi Dams, a friend and a former director of Hudson’s gallery, Feature Inc., confirmed the death but did not specify the cause.

Like Alfred Stieglitz, Betty Parsons, Richard Bellamy and other earlier New York dealers, Hudson was part aesthete, part pedagogue, part artist and part nurturer of artists. He had few restrictions concerning art.

Hudson founded Feature in Chicago in 1984, opening with a show of Richard Prince’s re-photographs on April Fools’ Day. He relocated the gallery to New York in 1988, moving to SoHo, then Chelsea and finally the Lower East Side. He characterized Feature — so named because it was a neutral word that would not detract attention from exhibitions — as “hands-on” and an expression of a personal vision, the opposite of what he called “the current, corporate model” of galleries.

He never expanded his space or his staff, and not doing so cost him. Although he gave New York gallery debuts to artists like Charles Ray, Raymond Pettibon, Tom Friedman, Takashi Murakami and Vincent Fecteau before they were well known, they all moved on to larger, more moneyed galleries.

There was a subtle iconoclasm in Hudson’s gallery designs. Most of them had just enough room to stage two or even three shows simultaneously, a tactic he called “my move against stardom and a push for pluralism and multiplicity.”

He spurned the conventional pristine, white-cube gallery space by never walling off his offices, putting his desk up front — so he was available for questions — along with comfortable chairs for visitors. This intimate, underdone setting forced visitors to see the art for itself, free of the hyping effect of fancy architecture.

Even sartorially he went against the grain. In a sphere where most people wore black, Hudson — lean, with a shaved head and often distinctive facial hair styles — favored brightly colored tailored shirts and sometimes beads.

He ignored trends in art, figuring that artists who were part of them would not last. Instead he concentrated on and often gave first shows to a long list of widely respected, quietly original artists, among them B. Wurtz, Kay Rosen, Hirsch Perlman, Kathe Burckhardt, Tony Tasset, Jeanne Dunning, Jim Isermann, Nancy Shaver, Lily van der Stokker, David Moreno, Alexander Ross, Judy Linn, David Shaw, Jason Fox, Lisa Beck, Dike Blair and Roy McMakin.

And he enriched his schedule with exhibitions of the esoteric and the overlooked, including the exquisitely rendered, sexually explicit homoerotic drawings of Tom of Finland, whose work he first exhibited in 1988, and the small, anonymous Tantric paintings on paper that he showed several times.

Hudson took care not to show young artists before they were ready. He unfailingly returned slides that artists had sent him for consideration with notes about their work — to do otherwise would be, he said, “too cold, too corporate” — and would ask the promising ones to send him annual updates. One artist updated Hudson for nine years before joining the gallery.

Quietly authoritative and mysterious, especially about his first name, Hudson held strong, carefully articulated views. In an interview on the gallery’s website in 2004 with Mr. Blair, he lamented the rise of think-alike collectors, as well as museums’ emphasis on entertainment and education, saying that audio tours “churn out like-minded fact followers rather than observant eyes.”

Hudson was born on Oct. 4, 1950, in New Haven, the second of four children of Harold C. Hudson, an engineer for AT&T, and Aileen Donahue Hudson. He is survived by his sister, Patricia Hudson, and his brothers Thomas and James.

Hudson showed interest in the arts from childhood. In 1972 he earned a bachelor’s degree in art education from Southern Connecticut State College (now University) in New Haven, where he also studied dance. In 1977 he earned a master’s in fine arts, in painting, at the University of Cincinnati.

By then he was performing with Contemporary Dance Theater and Judy Gregg Dane Company in Cincinnati while finding his way around the nonprofit, alternative arts scene that was beginning to thrive across the country. He held administrative positions with both Contemporary Dance Theater and the Cincinnati Artists Group Effort (CAGE), learning to raise funds, write grants, coordinate programs and tours, manage offices, edit publications and organize exhibitions.

From 1981 to 1987 he served on the executive board of the National Association of Artists’ Organization, including two years as president, and juried for the National Endowment of the Arts.

At the same time, he was establishing himself artistically. Openly gay, he tackled issues like homosexuality and AIDS in his performance pieces. He became known for aggressive, fast-paced presentations that involved political provocation, disrobing, profanity and hand-held signs, as well as humor.

His performances had names like “Deep Kissing,” “Sophisticated Boom Boom,” “The Greek & French Arts” (which he described as “an art history porno cooking lesson”) and “Poodle Theater” (“beauty gayness love”).

One publication called him “the best performance artist in Ohio,” but he also performed in Chicago, New York, Toronto and Los Angeles, often to full, if small, houses. Hudson moved to Chicago in 1981 and soon became the director of live events at the Randolph Street Gallery, an alternative space. But he realized that he wanted to work longer with fewer artists, and that the commercial gallery format was better suited for that purpose, though he tended to run Feature like an alternative nonprofit space.

Beside exhibitions, Feature held monthly video nights, flew in writers like Dennis Cooper to give readings and published an irregular magazine called FARM. Money was never his primary goal, he said. In 2010, when Feature’s finances were precarious, numerous artists offered to raise money with a benefit exhibition and sale of their donated artworks. Hudson agreed to the show but not its mercenary purpose, insisting that all the donated works be given away. He titled the show “Power to the People” and figured out other, slower ways to put the gallery’s finances in order.

His interests ranged beyond art. Hudson had what he called Buddhist leanings and meditated daily. A vegetarian, he was also an exceptional cook and a devotee of Ayurvedic spices as promoters of good health. Asked by Mr. Blair what he would be doing if he weren’t a gallerist, he replied: “Chef in a tiny restaurant. Gardener. Sanskrit scholar.”