Remembering Douglas Davis:
Critic, Internet Artist, and Resident of 80 Wooster Street
April 11, 1933 -- January 16, 2014
When Shael Shapiro and I were interviewing residents of 80 Wooster Street for our book, Illegal Living: 80 Wooster and the Evolution of SoHo, we met with Douglas Davis and his wife Jane Bell, in the wine bar, then at the corner of Broome and Wooster. Although both have since died, Jane in 2005 and Douglas, on January 16th, that interview was a reminder of life in early SoHo, where artists bought in by word-of-mouth for modest sums of money.
Jane and Douglas came to SoHo in 1973 through Reuben Gorowitz, an accountant who worked for many artists. He told them that lofts were for sale in 80 Wooster Street, Fluxhouse II, the first successful artist coop in SoHo. At the time, they were living in Washington Square North, in a conventional apartment and they wanted more space. Douglas had custody of his two daughters from a previous marriage, who were then eight and nine or ten.
Jane was an art critic who became a social worker. She worked for Art News, Arts Magazine and the Village Voice and met Douglas in 1970 in Washington at the Corcoran Gallery where she was an intern. "He was a big strong artist from New York," Jane said.
Douglas was plugged into the Fluxus network. He knew both George Maciunas, its founder, and Jonas Mekas, the avant-garde filmmaker, both of whom were in 80 Wooster. George had his office there, in the basement, and his friend Jonas, the ground-floor space which became Cinematheque and later Anthology Film Archives.
Davis and Bell bought into the building for $30,000 with a mortgage. It was very raw space with one large area which was their living-dining room and an original Maciunas bathroom, with "a weird Fluxus fiberglass tub."
Five years later, Douglas paid $10,000 for additional space in the basement that he had been renting from Anthology Film Archives. Douglas moved into the basement, ironically the very space that had been George Maciunas's office. But, when he went to sell his living loft on the fourth floor, conflict ensued with the coop. The two spaces were connected in terms of shares and Davis was told that he had to sell both. When he ended up living down there, the coop said that the space was for working, not living. Jonas Mekas wrote a letter on his behalf but, ultimately, Davis lost the case and left the building.
During his years in the basement, though, Davis left his mark on the dark, cramped space. "The back wall that Yoko Ono had painted white, Davis painted green. "I had this fantasy of the place becoming rural," he said.