Holly Block (1958–2017) was Art in General’s inaugural Executive Director from 1988 to 2006 and a pioneer in the New York art community like none other. Her unparalleled vision and force led to countless exhibitions, programs, and policies that supported so many local, national, and international artists early in their careers, and that continue to define who we are as an organization to this day.
Under Holly’s tenure, Art in General became known as one of New York City’s most dynamic alternative spaces, and one that is beloved by artists. Since the 1980s, the institution has consistently presented cutting-edge exhibitions and programs that provide unparalleled resources and visibility to artists. Many have gone on to wider recognition, to name only a few, Marina Abramović, Tania Bruguera, Glenn Ligon, and Gabriel Orozco. Holly’s particular focus on support and exchange for artists at the beginning of their careers was crucial and well ahead of its time: she instituted the policy of paying artists stipends for their work in 1988; started the Artist Residency program in 1994; founded the Eastern European Residency Exchange in 2001 (now our International Collaborations Program); and launched The Commission Project in 2005, which has since evolved into the New Commissions program. These programs still exist at Art in General today.
The institution’s dedication to artists that remains at the core of Art in General’s mission stems from Holly’s deep belief in their work. Between 1994 and 2006, the Artist Residency Program provided numerous artists from New York City and around the world with opportunities to create and exhibit new work onsite and allow the public to engage with the artistic process as it unfolded. The program supported artists such as Sanford Biggers, Tran Luong, and Chemi Rosado Seijo to research, develop new ideas, and engage New York communities with their works. In 2001, she launched the Eastern European Residency Exchange in partnership with several arts organizations in the region at a time of great societal transition, offering cross-cultural residencies for New York-based and Eastern European artists including Patrick Killoran, Ellen Harvey, Andreja Kulunčić, and Daniel Bozhkov. True to Holly’s unwavering dedication to international discourse in the arts, the program cultivated powerful and ongoing relationships between artists, curators, and arts organizations; and supported artists to make and present new work.
During Holly’s directorship, Art in General presented exhibitions that included Glenn Ligon’s The Black Book in 1991 as part of Positions of Authority, Marina Abramovic’s video work in 1993 as part of Remember Yugoslavia, works by Josia McElheny and Amy Sillman in 1998 as part of Personal Touch, Gedi Sibony’s work in 2002 as part of With (In), Vito Acconci’s architectural practice in 2002 as part of Reconfiguring Space: Blueprints for Art in General, artwork by Pedro Reyes as part of the group exhibition To Be Political It Has To Look Nice in 2003, work by Allora and Calzadilla, Lisi Raskin, and Mario Garcia Torres as part of Video 2005 Part II: No Convenient Subway Stops, and new work by Sharon Hayes, After Before.
Holly’s well-known advocacy and continued commitment to introducing Cuban artists to New York audiences began during her time at Art in General. She authored the book Art Cuba: The New Generation, (2001), contributed to the publication 1990s Art From Cuba: A National Residency Exchange (1998) and oversaw an accompanying exhibition featuring Tania Bruguera’s work, and curated the first solo exhibition in the United states by Alberto Casado, todo clandestine, todo popular (2005). She also co-organized several exhibitions of Cuban art such as Little Things (1994), New York Statements: Ten Artists (New York Exchange) (1995), Suspended Instants (1997), and Between Two Cities/ Punto de Vista: Entre Dos Ciudades (1999), among many others.
Art in General cannot express our gratitude for her vision more. Holly’s legacy is inscribed in our history and heart, and we continue to be guided by her ideals. We extend our condolences to her family, the Bronx Museum community, and so many artists and colleagues who will miss her.