In the second half of the 1960s Richard Serra, Eva Hesse and Bruce Nauman, among others, were carving out the afterlife of Minimalism. Bill Bollinger, then in his 20s and now the subject of revelatory exhibitions at the SculptureCenter and at Algus Greenspon Gallery, was one of those others.
Perhaps you have never heard of Mr. Bollinger. Between 1965 and 1970 he was at the center of avant-gardist action in New York and Europe. Major exhibitions here and abroad included his elegant, stripped-down configurations of hardware store materials like chain-link fencing, pipe, rope, hoses, lumber, sawhorses, oil barrels and nuts and bolts. For a historic 1969 group exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art, “Anti-Illusion: Procedures/Materials,” he extricated a boulder from the pit then being dug for the twin towers and transported it to the museum, where it was awarded pride of place at the show’s entrance.
In 1970 Mr. Bollinger organized an extraordinarily ambitious installation of water-filled barrels, hoses and wooden structures in a vast rented space on the 19th floor of the Starrett-Lehigh building in Chelsea. The critic Peter Schjeldahl wrote an appreciative review for The New York Times, but it was otherwise a disastrous undertaking for Mr. Bollinger. Partly because of the onerous financial obligations it left him with and partly because of personal issues related to a troubled marriage and a young son, he left the city to live upstate. He continued to make art and taught at various colleges, but his last exhibition in New York was in 1974, at OK Harris in SoHo. In the 1980s he tried to get back into the game, but the landscape of art had drastically changed and what he had to offer was no longer relevant. He was bitterly disappointed. When he died at 48 from the effects of alcoholism, he was a forgotten man.
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