‘He Was a Dealer’s Dealer’: Frieze New York Honors the Legacy of Trailblazing Gallerist Hudson

The gallerist, who was first to champion Murakami, Pettibon, Tom of Finland, and countless other artists in New York, gets a tribute at Frieze.

"The Back Way" performance by Hudson and Steve Lafreniere at Randolph Street Gallery, Chicago. Courtesy of the Feature Hudson Foundation, New York.

Everyone knows the artists: Takashi Murakami, Charles Ray, Raymond Pettibon. But only a small circle of insiders know the name of the dealer who first championed their work in New York.

That’s why Hudson, the late, one-named founder of the New York gallery Feature Inc. who died in 2014 at age 63, is the subject of a special section at Frieze New York this week, titled “For Your Infotainment / Hudson and Feature Inc.”

“It’s critical to me that we don’t lose sight of what Hudson did and don’t allow it to recede in our memories because he was and remains one of most forward-thinking people,” says Matthew Higgs, the director of the alternative art space White Columns, who organized the section at the fair. “When you encountered work at the gallery it felt a little off or wrong and then three to five years later it made sense.”

An invitation card for a 1986 photography exhibition at Feature. Courtesy of the Hudson Feature Foundation, New York.

A beloved performer, gallerist, and promoter of overlooked artists (well before that strategy was fashionable), Hudson first opened his gallery in Chicago in 1984 with a show of hand-written jokes by Richard Prince. He later moved to SoHo, Chelsea, and finally settled in the Lower East Side—one of the first galleries to migrate to the neighborhood amid skyrocketing rents in Chelsea.

“He was a dealer’s dealer,” Higgs says. All the great New York gallerists respected his program, in part because he approached the gallery as a conceptual project in itself, much like his better-known contemporaries Pat Hearn and Colin de Land. “They were having shows as artists and the medium was the gallery,” Higgs says.

The section at Frieze, which opens to VIPs tomorrow, includes eight booths. Each will house a presentation by a dealer who currently represents an artist who got their start at Feature: Gagosian (Murakami), David Zwirner (Pettibon), David Kordansky (Tom of Finland), Stephen Friedman Gallery (Tom Friedman), Nicelle Beauchene (Andrew Masullo), among others.

The new Feature Hudson Foundation will also have a booth, curated by Higgs, dedicated to 14 artists with less prominent gallery representation, including Kay Rosen, Richard Kern, B. Wurtz, Lucky DeBellevue, Nancy Shaver, and Sam Gordon. The stand’s back wall will be given over to a massive photo mural portrait of Hudson by Judy Linn. (Frieze did not charge the foundation for the booth and UOVO provided free shipping and installation.)

Hudson at NADA Hudson, New York, 2012, with a sculpture by David Shaw. Courtesy of the Feature Hudson Foundation, New York.

The nonprofit Feature Hudson Foundation, which formed last year, is in the Lower East Side space that once housed envoy enterprises, the gallery run by former Feature Inc. director Jimi Dams. The space is home to Hudson’s archives—”several hundred bankers’ boxes” of papers, Higgs says—and hosts exhibitions and programming dedicated to preserving Hudson’s legacy. The current show, of work by Alex Rose, runs through May 5.

“While I am trying to figure out how to be happy with envoy enterprises—ergo sheltering myself from everything that glorifies or generates (too much) money—I am donating the space to the Feature Hudson Foundation,” Dams tells artnet News in an email.

Hudson’s legacy also lives on in the Downtown Gallery Map, a lo-fi printed and online guide to commercial and nonprofit art spaces in the neighborhood where Hudson worked for years. The collector Sue Stoffel, who is on the foundation’s board, maintains and updates the map, which Hudson launched in 2011. “I do this in his honor, pro bono, as a way to respect his legacy and to give back to this community,” she tells artnet News.

Hudson. Courtesy of Feature Hudson Foundation, New York.

It is perhaps slightly ironic that a dealer who avoided art fairs for most of his life is the subject of Frieze New York’s first themed section. But Higgs says that after years of sitting fairs out, Hudson became a convert when he finally bit the bullet and participated in NADA and the Outsider Art Fair. “Paradoxically, he told me he loved doing them because they provided an opportunity to access a large, diverse, unpredictable audience.”

“Hudson was an extremely, unusually friendly and generous person,” Higgs adds. “What was extraordinary about Hudson at Feature was that he always sat behind front desk. He was the face of the gallery and that sort of interaction and connection with visitors was fundamental to his belief in being an art dealer.”

“For Your Infotainment / Hudson and Feature Inc” is on view at Frieze New York, May 3-6.

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