The Tenth Street Galleries was a collective term for the co-operative galleries that operated mainly in the Lower East Side of Manhattan, New York in the 1950s and 1960s. The galleries were artist run and generally operated on very low budgets, often without any staff. Some artists became members of more than one gallery. The 10th Street galleries were an avant-garde alternative to the Madison Avenue and 57th Street galleries that were both conservative and highly selective.
From the early 1950s through the mid 1960s (and beyond) in New York City, many galleries began as an outgrowth of an artistic community that had sprung up in a particular area of downtown Manhattan. The streets between 8th Street and 14th Street, between 5th and 3rd Avenues attracted many serious painters and sculptors where studio and living space could be found at a relatively inexpensive cost. Finding the audience for vanguard contemporary art to be small and the venues in which to show few, artists began to band together to launch and maintain galleries as a solution to the lack of other showing opportunities. Thus began a neighborhood in which several, (some now legendary) co-operative galleries were formed, (and a few non co-operative galleries as well).
Many of the artists who showed in these galleries, which are often referred to as the Tenth Street Co-ops or the Tenth Street Scene, have since become well known. Other artists who showed in these galleries are still under known, but in many cases have continued to work with zeal and dedication whether or not they are now famous. Some of the most well-known galleries that made the area what it was were: the Tanager Gallery, The March Gallery, The Hansa Gallery, The Brata Gallery, The James Gallery, The Phoenix Gallery, The Camino Gallery and the Area Gallery. Although the 10th Street galleries have almost all closed The Phoenix Gallery remains albeit in a new location and with a new membership.
“Approximately 250 artists were dues-paying members of these co-operative galleries between 1952 and 1962. More than 500 artists and possibly close to 1000 artists exhibited on Tenth Street during those years.” Several older and more established artists such as Willem de Kooning, Franz Kline and Milton Resnick maintained studios nearby and often served a supporting role for the many younger artists who gravitated to this scene.
During the most active years of the Tenth Street cooperatives, sculptors William King, David Slivka, James Rosati, George Spaventa, Sidney Geist, Israel Levitan, Gabriel Kohn and Raymond Rocklin, became known as representatives of the Tenth Street style of sculpture, even though there was remarkable diversity in their works.
Other galleries associated with the area and the time were the Fleischman Gallery, the Nonagon Gallery, the Reuben Gallery, the Terrain Gallery and the gallery at the Judson Church, which were not co-operatives.
The galleries on Tenth Street (and environs) played a significant part in the growth of American art and in the diversification of styles that are evident in the art world of today. The Tenth Street scene was also a social scene, and openings often happened simultaneously on common opening days. This afforded a way for many artists to mingle with each other and the writers, poets, curators and occasional collectors who gravitated to the scene. The artists and galleries that made up the Tenth Street scene were a direct predecessor to the SoHo gallery scene and the more recent Chelsea galleries.