From 1969 through the early 1980s, hundreds of working artists gathered on Manhattan’s Lower East Side every Friday at meetings of the Alliance of Figurative Artists. While figurative painting had regained popularity in the Bay Area in the 1950s, it was once again considered out of fashion by the late 1960s. Despite the focus on abstraction by art critics and curators, as well as the then-emergent movements of conceptualism and minimalism, figurative painters persisted on the periphery of the New York art world.
At their weekly gatherings, the artists of the Alliance discussed their varied yet cohesive interests in painting portraits and narrative scenes, landscapes, and still lifes. In response to their alienation from mainstream art establishments, they created their own spaces in which to showcase their work, including a constellation of cooperative galleries and, later, a museum. These galleries still exist today—a testament to the dedication of the artists who founded them—but the Alliance itself has been virtually lost to art history.
Although little has been written about it, the Alliance set a precedent for artistic development through community organizing, collaboration, and collective growth. These archival documents provide a window into the infrastructures built by the Alliance and how they created opportunities to uplift their practices and each other.