Since its inception in 1976, Franklin Furnace has presented what has come to be known as “variable media” art work — works that take on new dimensions in each iteration. These works challenge the bounds of genre, varying in the meanings they take on contextually as well as in their physical deployment.

Digital images are fast replacing slides and slide projectors in the teaching of art and art history. To respond to these changes, Franklin Furnace will work with ARTstor to digitize and distribute images and documentation of events presented and produced by Franklin Furnace, with the goal of embedding the value of ephemeral practice into art and cultural history.

The records of Franklin Furnace present an unparalleled resource in that they are the only artifacts of live, ephemeral, variable media works. While scholars still debate the locus of art in time-based, variable media, the physical history held in Franklin Furnace’s institutional archives offers a rare and valuable resource that captures the moment, the concept of the artist, and the historical context in which the work was created through the prism of its documentary parts.

Artists working in the late 70s and early 80s broached topics of personal, social and political relevance, and artworks produced at Franklin Furnace reflect their historical context. Artists who got their start in alternative spaces crossed genres to address issues of identity and politics from the perspective of the marginalized “outsider” in the realms of gender, ethnicity/nationality and other subjects at the core of cultural conflict.

Artists presented by Franklin Furnace include: Eric Bogosian, monologist and star of stage and screen; Jenny Holzer and Ann Hamilton, who represented the United States in the Venice Biennale; Guillermo Gomez-Pena and Liza Lou, winners of the MacArthur “genius” award; Mona Hatoum, the first artist to ever win the prestigious Sonning prize; Shirin Neshat, world renowned Iranian artist and filmmaker; and Ana Mendieta, Cuban-born artist whose retrospective was on view in 2004 at the Whitney Museum of American Art. The individual and collective impact of artists such as these upon larger culture is documented in the materials contained within the archives of Franklin Furnace:

  • In 1985, Franklin Furnace presented one of the first performance artworks to address the AIDS crisis; “Pink Triangle, Not Forgotten,” by S. K. Duff. About the identification and extermination of gays in Nazi Germany, this performance helped to kindle the public discourse that ultimately resulted in mainstream acceptance of AIDS victims;
  • Mona Hatoum’s “Variation on Discord and Division” made a silent, eloquent statement on the bloodshed in the Middle East in 1984;
  • Robbie McCauley’s 1985 “My Father and the Wars” explored the embedded nature of racism in American military and social institutions.
  • Teh-Ching Hsieh’s 1983 “One-Year Performance (Living Outside)” installation at Franklin Furnace was comprised of 365 maps of Lower Manhattan showing where he slept, ate, walked and slept each day; photos of the artist during the four seasons; and his clothes worn while living outside for one year, a silent treatise on what it means to be homeless.

Franklin Furnace has a history of actively making its collections and archives available for research. From pioneering storefront art space in TriBeCa to “going virtual” on the Internet, Franklin Furnace has explored new venues to reach the public. On May 11, 2006, the organization received notification that its proposal to the National Endowment for the Humanities–to digitize and publish on its website, records of performances, installations, exhibits and other events produced by the organization during its first ten years—had been funded. This project will create electronic access to what are now the only remaining artifacts of these singular works of social, political and cultural expression.

Commenting on the value of Franklin Furnace’s event archives to scholars, Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, Professor of Performance Studies, New York University writes, “The Franklin Furnace archive is of interest to a wide range of humanities fields because of the opportunity it affords to explore the role of art and the artist in American society in the post-World War II period. …this work was particularly responsive to the historic era in which it was made. As a result, scholars in such fields as American Studies, art history, visual cultural studies, theater history, performance studies, cinema studies, cultural studies, critical studies and museum studies will find rich research possibilities here.”

Says Martha Wilson, Founding Director of Franklin Furnace Archive, Inc., “The Board of Directors made the wrenching decision to sell the loft at 112 Franklin Street and ‘go virtual’ during our 20th anniversary season in 1996-97. At that time, in the wake of the Culture Wars, our primary concern was to choose a venue and art medium in the Internet that would provide the same freedom of expression artists had enjoyed in the loft in the 70s. Ten years later, the decision to make our website our public face has resulted in Franklin Furnace’s successful transition from physical art space to online research resource. I am truly thrilled to be embarking on Franklin Furnace’s 30th year with ARTstor’s collaboration agreement and a major grant from the NEH. The confluence of these events will help fulfill our mission to make the world safe for avant-garde art.”