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Coenties Slip Group

Artists flocking to the high ceilings and open spaces of industrial lofts is not just a current real estate trend. Back in the 1950s, a group of what would become museum-caliber artists settled into the old sail making factories in the shadow of the Brooklyn Bridge, a small strip along the East River called Coenties Slip. Lead by Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns who first settled there in the early 50s, artists like Ellsworth Kelly, Agnes Martin, and James Rosenquist soon followed suit and moved their live/work studios to the nautical neighborhood by the East River, far from the Greenwich Village scene where artists often lived and worked in the confines of their row house apartments.

Robert Indiana at his Coenties Slip Studio

Coenties Slip has been steeped in the history of New York since the city’s inception. In the 17th Century, the shipping center was home to the City Hall of New Amsterdam, and in the 18th and 19th centuries was the site of New York’s first publishing houses, bringing writers like Walt Whitman and Edgar Allan Poe to the industrial seaside neighborhood.

By the 1950s, the area remained mostly industrial. Wanting to completely differentiate themselves from the Abstract Expressionists, they began to develop the precursor to Pop art and Minimalism within their lofts, drawing inspiration from the uninterrupted river views, and the nautical relics they found in their building.

Old Timey Coenties Slip

Although they lived near each other and were referred to as the Coenties Group, the name was purely geographical. They did not form a particular art movement together, but instead acted as a support and critique family that helped each other go on their individual paths.

The area has since been taken over by the tourist heavy South Street Seaport. Most of the buildings that the artists lived in have been torn down. The only surviving is the historic Fraunces Tavern (which was also a meeting place of the Sons of Liberty and a hang out during the Revolutionary War), which is part of a landmarked block that the Coenties Slip group once frequented.

What: Coenties Slip

Who: Robert Indiana, Ellsworth Kelly, Jasper Johns, Agnes Martin, James Rosenquist and more

Where: Near the current South Street Seaport,  Coenties Slip between Pearl and Water Street

2 Responses to “Coenties Slip Group”
  1. Before Bushwick Indiana, Kelly, Rosenquist + Johns pioneered artist loft living-Coenties Slip Group @artnerdnewyork

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  1. […] at One Liberty Plaza, a collection of artist studios that can’t help remind me of the old Coenties Slip Group that included James Rosenquist and Ellsworth Kelly not too far from there. There are some great and […]

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