Considering Norman Fisher

May 15, 2013 0 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

A local whose intimation shaped contemporary art by Thony Aiuppy

Image of Norman E. Fisher. By Robert Mapplethorpe, Untitled, 1972, Museum of Contemporary Art Jacksonville, Gift of Norman E. Fisher.

Norman Fisher, a Jacksonville, Florida native was born July 31, 1938 and died of cancer April 9, 1977. He was 39 years old at the time of his death. In the late fifties, Norman found his opportunity to visit New York City. By the mid-late sixties he had relocated to SoHo permanently (until just before his death). After his death, his son, Douglas, inherited an amassed a two-hundred piece artist collection from his estranged father. Not knowing what to do with it, a college freshman at the time, the young Fisher donated the entire collection to the then called Jacksonville Art Museum. It would become the first prominent contemporary art collection in the city of Jacksonville. The collection would later go on view in “The Norman Fisher Collection at the Jacksonville Art Museum: A Collection – A Collector.”

Among the pieces in the collection include signed manuscripts and screen plays, drawings, shots and photos of works in progress, intimate portraits of the collector from some of his artists, etc. Mario Amaya once said that, “Norman Fisher was a collector or people.” [1] During his time in New York, he established in his penthouse apartment a salon, fittingly called “Norman’s” and displayed the work of the people he collected: Robert Maplethorpe, Mary Heilmann, Gordon Matta Clark, Joseph Kosuth, Lawrence Weiner, and Keith Sonnier just to name a few. He was hospitable and from what can be said in interviews and records about him he was more than willing to give an attentive ear or even aid in times of trouble.

The most popular way in which Fisher was able to amass such a unique and intimate collection was through the use of barter. Many of the artists that he dealt with in such a way were up and comers, whether conceptual artists or performance artists. All-in-all, Norman found great potential in them and was willing to do whatever he could to see them succeed in one of the most dangerous part of “The City.” By account of John D. Abbott, Jr. Norman believed artists “ were real human beings but they were also stars, celestial beings. They were to be loved, respected, scolded, supported, encouraged, collected and beheld with awe.” [2]

Fisher has been considered a collector's collector. He was always "on the hunt." He collected rarities as well as oddities. This also ties back into an earlier statement made, the fact that he also collected people. Among some of these within the collection are poets like Patti Smith, rock gods David Bowie, writers like William S. Burroughs, and modern composers like Philip Glass. This neapolitan group impressed upon him the importance of the progressive, forward thinking attitudes in the arts and the ways in which it could bring understanding to such sub cultures dealing with issues such as gender and identity politics, post modernist attitudes in art through Conceptualism, minimalism, and performance, and the role of women in art society. To say the least, Norman Fisher is not as well known as he should be. He was a subversive collector and curator, entrenched in the subculture of burgeoning art movements that would explode and land certain artists on the international platform in the blue chip art world.  

It isn't well known how involved Fisher was with the 112 Greene St. Workshop. 112 Greene St. was "founded in 1970 in an old rag-salvaging factory in a decrepit downtown neighborhood only then becoming known as SoHo, 112 Greene Street had no formal opening. It had no official name, other than its address, or 112 Workshop, which it was sometimes called. Almost any artist willing to install and dismantle his or her own work was welcome. Technically, some of the work made or shown there was for sale, but the majority of it disappeared, either because it was meant to or because no one had the slightest idea what to do with it outside of its hothouse hatchery." [3]

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