The co-op bookstore for avid readers
Book Cover for: The Last Artists in New York: Westbeth and the Twilight of Bohemia, Peter Trachtenberg

The Last Artists in New York: Westbeth and the Twilight of Bohemia

Peter Trachtenberg

An intimate history of America's first publicly funded artists' housing project, the artists who lived there, and the transformation of New York's West Village across five decades.

Westbeth Artists Housing was founded in 1970 to provide affordable housing for artists and their families. The complex of buildings occupies a full city block--three quarters of a million square feet--of prime New York real estate in the now-trendy Meatpacking District. It is a kind of Great Society for bohemians, a freakish utopia for more than three hundred and eighty artists--painters, sculptors, poets, playwrights, actors, dancers, performance artists, and at last count one puppeteer--and their families. Its residents have included Diane Arbus and Robert Di Niro, Sr., Merce Cunningham and Muriel Rukeyser, jazz composer Gil Evans and novelist Tama Janowitz.

While some Westbeth residents achieved fame, obscurity drove others to bitterness and despair. The Last Artists in New York tells the story of Westbeth through the life and tragic death of the flamboyantly eccentric Gay Edward Milius III, an idealistic artist, flea market picker, and aspiring novelist who moved into the building in 1976. In January 2006, Milius III took his life in his thirteenth floor apartment. He wasn't the first Westbeth's tenant to commit suicide--that was probably Arbus, who took her life on July 26, 1971, a year after Westbeth opened.

Before Westbeth's waiting list was closed in 2007--and again in May 2019, only a few months after it had reopened--it was more than ten years long. Has it become a naturally occurring retirement community, an arty senior center? The Last Artists in New York is a chronicle of the changing notions of what it means to be a successful artist and the impossibility of attaining the twenty-first century version of it while staying true to the old bohemian ethos. It is the story of individuals, some of whom became famous in the worlds of art, music, theater, dance, and literature, some of whom survive only in the memories of aging friends and lovers. It is for any reader interested in social history as well as artistic cultural history.

Book Details

  • Publisher: Black Sparrow Press
  • Publish Date: Sep 24th, 2024
  • Pages: 344
  • Language: English
  • Dimensions: 0.00in - 0.00in - 0.00in - 0.00lb
  • EAN: 9781574232516
  • Categories: History - Contemporary (1945- )Housing & Urban DevelopmentArtists, Architects, Photographers

About the Author

Trachtenberg, Peter: -

Peter Trachtenberg was born and grew up in New York City and began spending time in
Westbeth in the late 1970s. He lived there (illegally) from 1995 to 2006. He is the author of three earlier books of nonfiction and the recipient of awards that include Whiting and Guggenheim Fellowships and a Phi Beta Kappa award.

Praise for this book