Perspectives

The Art World Remembers Hudson, Feature Inc.'s Visionary Dealer

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The Art World Remembers Hudson, Feature Inc.'s Visionary Dealer
Portrait of Hudson in 2009, taken by artist Cary Smith

Hudson, the renowned fixture of the downtown art world who turned Feature Inc. into one of New York's most distinctive platforms for artists, was a dealer who pitched his operation in the grasses of left field, unpretentiously championing artists—like Tom of Finland and the anonymous Tantric painters—that less acute sensibilities overlooked. With his passing on February 9 at the age of 63, the richness of his accomplishments and the enormous network of lives that he touched became immediately apparent. Everyone in the art world has been mourning his passing.  

Throughout his career, Hudson—who opened Feature in Chicago on April Fool’s Day of 1984 with a show of work by Richard Prince, then relocated it to SoHo in New York four years later, with subsequent iterations in Chelsea and the Lower East Side—was praised for his intrepid programing and discriminating eye. With a knack for tapping talent early, Hudson showed, in addition to Prince, Jeff Koons, Takashi Murakami, Raymond Pettibon, Charles Ray, and Tom Friedman before their ascensions. He also gave writer David Sedaris a formative boost, publishing his first satires in a small magazine during their Chicago days.

There has been an outpouring of tributes to the dealer on social media from those close to him this week. Prince tweeted on Wednesday that Hudson “saved my ass big time and never asked to be saved himself.” Indeed, Hudson saw his role as a dealer as subordinate to the artist, and, as he expressed in interviews, he would not have had it any other way. His pleasure was in exhibiting the unexpected and complex work of his “Feature creatures,” as he called them, in a quiet space, where the obvious and quickly devoured were not welcomed guests. 

Hudson was also known for challenging the market demands that too often dictate taste, trusting intuition rather than searching out the fashionable. “I don’t have an agenda,” Hudson said in an Art in America interview in 2010, “but I often say that the gallery’s M.O. is to show work that addresses the issues and trends of the day from a more personal or intimate point of view.”

His influence was all the greater for this approach. Here, Artspace has collected tributes to Hudson from artists including B. Wurtz and Richard Prince, curators Massimiliano Gioni and Chrissie Iles, and writers Gary Indiana and David Sedaris, who explain how Hudson affected their lives, and their art. 

CARL D'ALVIA, artist

Hudson was a hub, a model, and a starting point for so many in the art world, and yet, so much larger than the world he inhabited. When I heard that he had passed, I immediately thought of something he had said to me regarding the art world: "I just wandered into it, and some day I'll just wander out."

GARY INDIANA, writer

I met Hudson in 1987 or ’88 in Chicago, when I was doing a book tour for my first novel—I believe he had not yet opened Feature, and was working at the Randolph Street Gallery. I found him immediately sympatico and fascinating—a lovely personality with a wonderful mind and instinctive good taste, but discerning in an intellectual way. He wasn’t an Art Person whose range of interests was at all limited to Art, thank god. I think the first or second time I saw him we went with David Sedaris, Steve Lafreniere, John Sanchez, and Ferd Eggan to a leather bar that had a back patio, where we smoked a lot of weed and snorted poppers while “ironically” watching one leather lady lick another’s boots. He was really making love to those boots with his tongue, and his Master was in seventh heaven.

I had the impression that Hudson was never especially surprised by anything. He reminded me of John Waters: not judgmental when it wasn’t necessary, and curious about anything people do that’s out of the ordinary. I’m not saying licking boots is so arcane, but it could have been something far more extreme and I don’t think either of us would have blinked. For a few years, I was often in Chicago and I always looked him up. He introduced me to Kay Rosen and several other artists whose work became important to me.  

Hudson moved to New York at a time when I had finished what I considered a disastrous longeur of writing as an art critic in the Village Voice. I hated that job and was intensely alienated from anything to do with the art world when I finally quit, but Feature was one of three or four galleries I could go to later without vomiting. He showed Richard Prince and Dike Blair and Candy Darling, and a lot of other people whose work meant something important to me. A few months ago we talked for a long time on the phone and made the usual New York promise to see each other soon. Perhaps we will, but not here, alas. A terrible loss of a beautiful person.

RICHARD PRINCE, artist

First time I met Hudson. William Olander invited me over to his place in the 20s off of Park Avenue South in December '85. Bill was or would become a curator at The New Museum when they were on West Broadway. Up till then he was a curator out at Oberlin College and had put together shows in the early 1980s with people like me and David Salle and Cindy Sherman. When I went over to Bill's apartment, the only other person there was Hudson.

Here's the thing. The moment I entered the apartment I started to have an anxiety attack and started to freak out like I was on a bummer acid trip. As soon as I entered the apartment I turned around and left. I never talked to Hudson about this "first" encounter. That was the thing about Hudson. He played it as it laid. He didn't need to know or care about your fuckups. He was interested in the art you were making.

After leaving the apartment...the next morning I got on a plane and moved to Venice Beach in California. I rented a house with some music friends and started to make drawings of cartoons. Redrawing cartoons of my favorite cartoonists. Two things happened while I was in Venice. Hudson asked me to send some of these "cartoons" to him. He said he was going to open up a gallery/performance space in Chicago.

He also convinced me to apply for an NEA. I had never applied for any kind of grant. It seemed, I don't know...a waste of time. He actually made out the forms and wrote most of the proposal. The next thing I know I got $15,000 in the mail. That was kind of like getting a million bucks in that TV program "The Millionaire." 

Never having any money was something I was used to. This was a whole new ballgame. The drawings of cartoons were done with a no. 6 soft lead pencil on hot press d'arche paper...26-by-40. They were faithfully redrawn right down to the caption. I called them "jokes." I sent them along to Hudson and I swear the next thing I know I get a check in the mail for $3,500! Every time he sold a drawing I'd get a check. It was like finding a lost wallet. The first thing I did with the cash was get the daily newspapers delivered right to my lawn.

It's January 1986. You have to understand, this is the first time in my life I'm flush. I kept asking myself...who is this guy? And the only answer I could come up with...was Angel.

I realized that calling the cartoons "jokes" was wrong. They were cartoons. If I wanted to call them "jokes" then I'd have to get rid of the illustrative image part and concentrate on the punch line. So that's what I did. I'd moved back to NYC in early spring and started to hand-write one-liners on 11-by-14 pieces of paper. Hudson said he had finally found a space for a gallery and wanted to know if I would have the first show. 

Of course. For you? Anything. Whatever you need.

That was my relationship with Hudson. There was never any hesitation. I trusted him. He created a situation for an artist like myself that I felt completely comfortable in. AND...it's where I wanted to be.

Hudson was an artist who opened a gallery. He didn't wait for permission. He didn't ask to be part of a committee or be on a board or be part of a group that would sit around and hash things out and come up with a plan. As far as I know Hudson didn't have any plans. He wanted to do what he felt and what he thought was right.

The first thing that Hudson felt right about was to show my new "jokes." I remember he sent out a mustard colored postcard with the word JOKES printed in Helvetica bold in the middle of the card. So that was it. That's what got it started. Hudson was the first one for me.

 TODD LEVIN, art advisor

I first met Hudson many decades ago in Cincinnati, in his gallery/performance space, where the floor was covered with bricks. The bricks were applied unevenly, and so you had to step very carefully. If you didn't pay thoughtful attention to your movements, you could easily trip and fall. And that was the whole thing with Hudson. He always chose the artists he worked with and set up his galleries in a manner that quietly requested that you pay thoughtful attention—not to the prices, not to the hype, not even to the artists themselves. All Hudson requested was that you pay thoughtful attention to the art itself. Largely emptied out of all else, Hudson made a space in the afternoon air, where being there together, just the viewer and the art, was enough.

PETER TAUB, curator

I've often been moved by the integrity and discipline Hudson wore so naturally, usually in risky, provocative, and memorable ways. He had an indelible arc with Feature, but I still remember him as the first performance curator at Randolph Street Gallery, as well as for his own irreverent works—brave, naked, patriotic for the spaces he helped us see and believe in. Hudson was a real force, steady and in his own way always true.

CARLO MCCORMICK, critic

When a young artist of great ambition (always wanting more access to that mythical promise of fame and fortune) would press me to please introduce them to a dealer—as if being a lowly art critic somehow gave me secret keys to the kingdom—Hudson was always there. Here was a dealer who reveled in seeing new work, never listening to what others said but always looking for himself, and committed to finding it in the studio rather than poaching it from another gallery.

As to all who hold great dreams, you want to tell them to be careful with what you wish for, but when it came to an introduction to Hudson, I was always quite specific with my warnings. Hudson will come to your studio, you won't even have to beg him or do some elaborate dance of seduction to get him there, but know this: he will tell you exactly what he thinks. This would seem to be everything anyone could ever want, as most artists are used to studio visits of the most banal, tepid response, somewhere between “hmmm, interesting” and “thanks, please let me know what you’re up to in the future.” Not so simple with Hudson. If he found your work lazy or wanting, he could, in the most precise of terms, rip you a new asshole. None of that polite art-speak, aesthetics were personal to him, and he waged his critical criteria with ruthless candor.

Over the many years I knew Hudson, from Chicago through his long tenure in New York, I had opportunity to introduce him to many aspiring souls. I can’t remember any of them thanking me in the end, nor anyone who ever ended up showing with him. Most were quite disillusioned by the experience, and many seemed quite scarred by it. I’d like to think however that somehow they all listened to him in the end, because he was wise and perceptive beyond the usual measure. I can’t imagine any artist who would not be some considerable bit better having his voice somewhere in their head. 

SALLY WEBSTER, artist

Hudson was one of the loves of my life. I had my first art show ever with Hudson at 484 Broome Street, in 1991, with Huma Bhabha, Tom Friedman, and David Shaw. That particular show did not have a title, but each show after that had an amazing one: “Godhead,” and “Let the great constellation of flickering ashes be heard,” the list is long. Hudson was a poet. The names he gave the exhibitions were his poems. We spent most of our time together just simply looking at art and dreaming. 

SAM GORDON, artist

The phrase "they broke the mold after this one" may have been coined with Hudson in mind. I am eternally grateful to Hudson for understanding me and helping me understand my own work, and doing that for so many others. Hudson almost never said "no" to me. Hudson was not one to overpraise. You knew when he knew and then you both knew and it was new.

CHRISSIE ILES, Whitney curator

Hudson was a visionary, and his untimely death feels like the end of an era. We will never forget his contribution, and his extraordinary dedication to, and support of, artists. 

DAVID SEDARIS, writer

Hudson was so inventive at being bald. His head would be shaved, but there was often something else going on—a single sideburn, for instance, or an icicle of hair clinging to the underside of his chin.

Steve Lafreniere introduced me to him, back in ’86, I think. It was at Hudson’s Chicago gallery that I met Kay Rosen and Janet Carkeek and realized that contemporary art could be funny. He showed a lot of funny artists over the years: Jeanne Dunning, B. Wurtz, Jason Fox, Kathe Burkhart. Hudson very kindly published one of my first stories in a magazine he put together called Farm. He also let me read at Feature when I first moved to New York. He was that rare and magnificent person who makes a real impact on people’s lives. I went to his apartment once. The main room was small and bare and was bisected by what looked like a fallen tree. I believe it was a Jason Fox sculpture, though I could be wrong. That he had so little space, and gave art precedence over his own comfort was telling, I thought.

CARY SMITH, artist

Those of us who were honored enough to receive Hudson's emails that began with "hello feature creatures," were part of a family where positivity, generosity, and fearlessness were just understood. We all tried to live up to the tone he set, just by being who he was. We learned not to be too needy, and to be kind and compassionate. We learned to try as hard as we could to make our best work, but to remain light-hearted at the same time. As much as a gallery owner with an unflinching eye for the idiosyncratic and the authentic, he was really a teacher: one who didn't try to teach, but just did, by being an intensely admirable human being. I can still hear his quiet voice that carried so much power. I loved him, and will always miss him.

B. WURTZ, artist

I first met Hudson in 1986 and continued to have a close relationship with him over the years. Despite having known him for so long, he always remained somewhat of a mystery to me. Indeed, that was one of the fascinating things about him. 

Hudson was unique. He was a visionary—and when he looked at art, he looked intently and he always made up his own mind. That was so obvious to those who knew him. He loved art, artists, and people involved with art. That is much of what Feature was, a place for that love to happen.

DIKE BLAIR, artist

Today I was looking at some of my old email correspondences with Hudson, remembering how, whatever business we might be doing, the exchange and our friendship were the important things. He was a teacher, and I miss him.

In an email he sent, alerting me of a sale:

The sticks now show and
the leaves are on the ground brown
and dry in small heaps 

In response to something I said about the spot touched by the Tantra paintings he often exhibited:

That spot is years of deep understanding and experience—life engaged in the meaning of what is being made, understanding it deeply and transmitting that effortlessly and transparently during the process of the making.

In an email about the pricing of works: 

When next you visit Chelsea, you may enjoy walking by the community garden at 25th street just east of 9th Avenue. The garden has some wonderful flowers blooming there.

JASON FOX, artist

My working relationship with Hudson began in the early 1990s by dropping off a small stack of cheap Polaroids of my work and getting a call back a few days later requesting a studio visit. I showed with him for the next 17 years. Sales, critical support, and curatorial interest were all almost completely nonexistent during that entire time, and any other gallery in New York would have kicked me to the curb long ago, but not Hudson. If he thought the work was good, he showed it. For me that was the greatest lesson he taught me (among many): do what you need to do regardless of current fashions, critics, et cetera...you make art because you love to do it.      

HUMA BHABHA, artist

During the entire 1990s Hudson was the only dealer in New York to show my work; I was fortunate to be in several Feature group shows...other dealers wouldn't even look at my slides. I didn't have a solo show in New York until 2004, but without the support of Hudson during those lean years of the 1990s, I might not have lasted until then. Hudson was a visionary who was able to look outside the box and encourage and support artists who strived to be different.           

TONY TASSET, artist

Hudson (Hud) wore head to toe spandex and pink hair when I first met him in Cincinnati in the early ’80s. He was a performance artist, and I was a student at the Art Academy of Cincinnati. His performances were funny, rude, and fast-paced. Hudson made identity work before it had a name. I also remember seeing him dancing on Thursday nights at “The Pit”—a club that turned “new wave” once a week. Hudson had a signature move that consisted of turning to the left, then to the right, freezing his body in a slight crouch and quickly chopping his hands in the air.

Hudson moved to Chicago and, in 1984, started Feature. For a brief time, a tiny paradigm shift occurred in Chicago, a town heavily influenced by regionalism and specifically the Imagists. It was a heady time and the one time I felt the most connected to any zeitgeist. I’ve worked with several great art dealers but no one since Hudson that I felt I could talk about art so well with. He never ever told me what to do. We were building something together.

Eventually Hudson moved Feature to New York. I don’t think he had the desire or ability to become a Mathew or a Larry. At heart he was always an artist.

BILL KOMOSKI, artist

Hudson operated from a position of exceptional clarity. He spoke with a thoughtful purpose, grounded in a remarkable self-assuredness that remained completely open and receptive. For all his strength and tenacious ability to live life on his own terms, there was an incredible warmth, a sparkle in his eyes. He had a generosity of spirit that provided tremendous support to so many of us who were lucky enough to have had him in our corner. Above all, Hudson was a treasured friend. 

STEVE LAFRENIERE,  writer and curator

Hudson lived the most exemplary life of any friend I've had. If you knew him, this needs no further explaining. For those who didn't: highly dedicated, generous without expectation of return, warm as the sun, and with almost laser-like focus, and a brilliant eye for art will give you an idea. His gallery, Feature Inc., is legend in the art world, for the beautiful, rigorous work of the artists he showed, and the integrity with which he ran it. I can't imagine what could ever take its place.

MICHAEL RODRIGUEZ, artist 

When reflecting on Hudson, I keep thinking about this quote by Robert Motherwell: “Reinhardt was always right.” I kind of feel that way about Hudson. As an artist, I so appreciated his ability to always “look” first. He coupled that looking with a fierce intellect and an unflinching willingness to bring the spiritual into the fold of his program. As a young artist in the early 1990s, Feature was where I wanted to show. It was probably seven years between Hudson going to see my work in a group show and looking at my slides and giving me my first exhibition at Feature. His now legendary notes were always thoughtful and precise, with unexpected connections. Just today, when I woke up thinking about my day, as a reflex I thought about stopping by Feature. I will miss him greatly. 

LYNNE WARREN, curator

I knew Hudson from his days as director of the performance program at the now-legendary alternative space in Chicago, Randolph Street Gallery, where he also performed himself in unsparing, aggressive works that were not lacking in wit and humor. When he moved on and opened, in 1984, his gallery Feature, it was a revelation—quite an education for those of us lucky enough to make our way to that space on Huron Street, where he was always present, ready to talk if you wished, but also willing to leave you alone to look. One of my indelible memories is seeing him on his bicycle returning home after work to the then-marginal Wicker Park neighborhood we shared, transformed into a self-contained, mysterious figure in the twilight.

RICHARD KERN, artist

At the end of the ’90s the owner of a European gallery I worked with took me aside after my opening to say that he thought I was heading in a bad direction (the work was the opposite of politically correct) and that maybe I should reconsider what I was doing, because he was having a hard time selling the work in the show. When I got back to New York, I went to see Hudson to ask what he thought. His immediate response was, “If what you are doing is bothering people, then you should keep doing it.”   

The 2008 financial crisis hit Hudson, Feature, and the rest of New York hard. He had just opened a large new space on the Bowery up the street from the New Museum. Everyone thought the gallery was going to close, so a couple of Hudson’s friends began organizing a benefit for him. He hated the idea of taking charity and was not onboard with the idea, even as the artwork for the benefit began arriving at the gallery. 

Somehow, the gallery survived and reopened where it is now on Allen Street, and the benefit never happened. No one wanted their donated work back though, so Hudson came up the idea of having a free art day. He hung the gallery floor to ceiling with the donated work and sent out a notice that May 1st (May Day) was going to be a free art day at Feature Inc.  Anyone and everyone were invited to come to the gallery and take one piece of art off the wall with no charge. Before the gallery opened that day, the line of people waiting to get their free work was a block long. The event was a huge success.

JENNIFER SIREY, artist

There is no one like Hudson: a person of clear intention, intelligence, and spirituality; a beautiful friend and, at times, a radiant child. His trust and support of my work has nurtured me since our first studio visit in the early ’90s when he introduced me to Paul Thek and later gave me my first show. In the last few years, his encouragement gave me new purpose. The love Hudson contained in him was immense, and I think that now it is everywhere.  

ALEXANDER ROSS, artist

I was a struggling unknown painter when, in the mid-’90s, I sent slides in the mail to Feature, because I heard Hudson might actually look at them. He came right away to view my paintings, and returned year after year, encouraging me, until one year he simply said, “You’re ready, I want to show this work.” With that, he single handedly made my career happen. Hudson’s track record of being way ahead in discovering unusual new artists is unmatched, and here is his secret: he often acted as fermenting agent, promising artists before they were ready, giving his vote of confidence and knowing this would spur them to rise to the occasion and make the work more interesting. And next thing I know, he sends me a killer mix tape!

ANDREW EDLIN, art dealer and owner of the Outsider Art Fair

I only met Hudson a few years ago, but he was already legendary to me. We were seated next to each other at a lunch during the Dallas Art Fair.

Later, his participation in the Outsider Art Fair was a great endorsement of the fair, a true badge of honor for us. The Tantric drawings that he filled his booth with were phenomenal and unlike anything the fair had seen in its 20-year history. I wasn't surprised when I saw them again later at the Venice Biennale.

He was a soft-spoken guy, but every word counted. He had no use for any art-world poses or affectations. 

MASSIMILIANO GIONI, New Museum curator

I was not a friend of Hudson and didn’t know him. And I actually feel pretty bad because, for some reason, I visited his gallery less since it moved to the Lower East Side from Chelsea. Last time I saw Hudson must have been a little more than a year ago, when I was working on the Venice Biennale. I borrowed a wonderful series of anonymous Tantric paintings, which he had been collecting and exhibiting for a few years. Hudson was incredibly generous and let me borrow beautiful ones. When we were discussing the loan, I asked him to please keep the group together. He said not to worry, he had no intention of selling them, he hadn’t done so for many, many years. I thought it was such a nice thing for a gallerist to say. I hope all the prayers and meditations encapsulated in those drawings are with him somehow now.

DAVID BRESKIN, poet

I’VE KNOWN RIVERS (MODERN, PALE RIVERS)

            For Hudson, in memoriam
London, 4:53 a.m. 

There was only one of him.
There was only one.

There he was, welcoming
cockeyed glare, jut-jawed whooping
crane laugh, a laugh with elbows: our own
elfin art-world James Carville. He danced life
spine-supple, could Watusi theory inside
out, and liked to look. I always meant
to write him a poem, and didn’t.
Not this death-mask poem.
His voice

had the smell of a specific
object. On the phone, the animal
fat of bacon waffling fiber-optically. 
His odd-metered silences always the invitation
to make up a better world on the spot, right
now. Optically micro- and macroscope,
Hudson periscoped past and future,
a mine-sweeper of impure and
pure pleasure. 

There was only one of him.
There was only one.
There he was. 
There he goes.
There, there.

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