Profiles Visual Arts

Remembering Artist Marty Greenbaum (1934-2020)

Marty Greenbaum (left) with Jeannie and Ed McCormack

Ed & I have many fond memories of Marty whom we met at the 10th street galleries during the 1960s when Ed was showing his paintings and drawings. 

The 10th Street Galleries were close to the Bowery, which in those days was inhabited by the homeless who came to the openings for the wine. They were never turned away. The openings were like a big party every Friday night, open to all. In the 1960s before the real estate prices made it impossible to live as a poor artist in New York City, a group of artists might meet at Katz delicatessen on the Lower East Side before wandering over to the openings. There was a feeling of excitement, freedom and a sense that anything could happen. 

“Rain NY,” 1996, mixed media

The 10th Street openings were very much in the spirit of Happenings which were precursors of the now popular Performance Art. Our good friends Jim and Beverly Hans were married at Jim’s opening at the Stryke Gallery and at one of Ed’s openings a Rock and Roll group blasted their music so loud half the crowd left the gallery! 

Artists had a sense of optimism and excitement about their work. One artist we knew, who didn’t have an exhibition lined up, was so excited about his work that he would whip his small paintings out of the pockets of his raincoat and show them to unexpecting gallery-goers who had come to see the works on the wall! 

It was at this time in our lives that we met Marty Greenbaum at the Stryke Gallery where Ed was also showing his work. I realized then that I was meeting a person who lived and always conducted himself as an artist, unconstrained by the usual conventions. He had a wonderfully surreal air about him—carrying strange objects which he didn’t bother to explain. I imagine they were some objects for one of his assemblages. He and other artists of that period made works from found sources. 

Ed described Marty’s work in an exhibition essay for Pacifico Fine Art in 2001:  “At a time when most of his contemporaries were calculating how to harden their edges or revamp their styles with the window dressings of Camp, this primal mixed media whizkid from Coney Island labored like an entranced shaman, to conjure up zanily beautiful art brut paintings and weird, wax-drizzled voodoo alter assemblages that resembled nothing so much as the ritual artifacts of some lost psychedelic tribe!” 

On reading Marty’s narrative/bio we learn that he grew up in Coney Island where he worked summers in the Penny Arcades, and was inspired by the carnival atmosphere which he reflected in his work throughout his life. As expressed by David Bourdon of The Village Voice about a 1965 Stryke Exhibition: 

“Marty Greenbaum’s work is genuinely messy, crude and seemingly generated by a kind of infantile depravity. The show has the look of a sleazy midway at Coney Island …. It comes on as pathetic, trivial, and awful, and succeeds at being thoroughly enchanting.” 

“Shadow Song,” 2005, mixed media on paper

In the 1960s Marty was involved with the underground downtown NYC art scene which he considered his “new playground” according to his bio. In an interview, Marty described his working space: “My studio space exists inside and outside of its physical presence; it exists in my brain and the city is always the source. My productivity is dependent on these connections.” 

His bio also says his works were shown at The Whitney Museum, Smithsonian Institute of Art, as well as many galleries. The Allan Stone Gallery was one of his major collectors. Marty died on January 24, 2020. His wife Eileen Mislove has given us the privilege of sharing some of the highpoints of Marty’s life with our readers. For this, we are grateful and wish her solace from her memories and from his art which lives on.

It is difficult to write about such a special artist who is no longer of this world, but no one expressed it better in his bio than Marty himself: 

“Looking back, it seems a dream —the objects that I have made are the archeological artifacts of my treasured New York City—the city that has nourished and fascinated me all my life. My pieces are actual, the drawing, painting, collage and mixed media of them are personal tattoos, the rough surfaces and weathered skin of the experience of a lifetime.” 

“Diary in ’71 (On the Air Radio),” 1971, mixed media

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