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Illegal Living

80 Wooster Street and the Evolution of SoHo

 

 

Illegal Living is the story of the building at 80 Wooster Street in New York and the people who lived and worked there. The first of 16 artists’ coops started by George Maciunas, founder of the Fluxus art movement, Fluxhouse Coop II spurred the development of SoHo and the spread of worldwide loft conversions.

 

Using archival finds, extensive interviews, architectural expertise, and first-person accounts, the authors reveal the myriad ways that the legal formalities and unavoidable business decisions of a live-work cooperative were shaped on a daily basis. The artists of SoHo, while focused on their art, also built community, participating in the creation of a new form of residential development.

 

The building was a magnet for the avant-garde who were drawn to Jonas Mekas’ Cinematheque, a ground-floor space that hosted happenings, film screenings, dance and theater performances, concerts, and art shows. Hundreds of artists including Trisha Brown, Richard Foreman, Allen Ginsberg, Philip Glass, John Lennon, Hermann Nitsch, Yoko Ono, Nam June Paik, and Andy Warhol showed their work in and around the building.

 

Illegal Living’s intimate portrait of a single building over 40 years highlights the complexity of an artist coop and puts into question any simple take on who wins and who loses when neighborhoods change.  The artists who lived and worked at 80 Wooster played major roles in music, film, and the fine and performing arts. Their shared story is unique and compelling.