"Hudson's like an unlit firecracker, and we're going to light the fuse," vows artist Tery Fugate-Wilcox. He's wearing an iridescent lime green shirt, purple pants, and yellow shoes, all designed by the brand International Male. Around his neck is a pair of hot pink underpants, which double as a COVID mask. He looks like an `80s Las Vegas lounge singer with a Master's degree in metaphysics. We're sitting in his new gallery, Shakespeare's Fulcrum, which opened in Hudson in April.
Tery Fugate-Wilcox is the prophet of Actual Art, a movement in which artists attempt to remove themselves from the art-making process. Dan Dempster has an underwater studio in the Bahamas where he uses seawater to corrode his sculptures. Maria Ceppi grows actual grass (of numerous colors) on her canvases. ("You have to water the paintings," Fugate-Wilcox explains.) As for the prophet himself, his new project is building a one-acre slab on the San Andreas Fault: The next earthquake will create the art. (To promote the plan, he's giving out stickers with the slogan: "It's Your Fault.")
Actualism is a real philosophy, articulated by the Italian theoretician Giovanni Gentile. "It's kind of a Western version of Zen Buddhism," Fugate-Wilcox remarks—which may explain his conversational style. "Who invented Actual Art?" I ask. "Probably the Cherokee," he replies, deadpan. "Didn't they invent everything?" (He himself is half-Sioux.)
"Do you live alone?" I ask him.
"For eight hours a day," he answers.
Fugate-Wilcox shows me a painting divided in half horizontally. The top half is a "fake Jackson Pollock," as he puts it. When you set the painting out in the rain, the top half liquefies and drips onto the bottom half. "The painting paints a painting," explains the artist. The work is from the show "Shmorgisborg," a salon-style showcase of previously unseen works of Actual Art on display through June 12.
Fugate-Wilcox has had a long and varied career. He helped create electronic music for the group Silver Apples in the 1960s. He designed the interior of the Tunnel nightclub in Tribeca in 1986. An earlier incarnation of this gallery opened in the basement under the SoHo Guggenheim Museum in 1993.
Perhaps he is best known for creating a nonexistent gallery with a fake address on 57th Street (the "Jean Freeman Gallery"), whose hoax-shows were written up in the New York Times. Art in America called this prank "the conceptual artwork that ended conceptual art." Quoth Fugate-Wilcox: "Art is too important to be taken seriously."
A meeting with Salvador Dali was formative. "We had a party to greet him; we were all wearing our `80s Levi's outfits," the artist remembers. "He walked in with his cape and cane and six naked ladies in feathers and furs—it was like the room went from black-and-white to color. I went home and burned all my Levis, and started over. Fashion can change you."
His wife and constant companion, Valerie Monroe Shakespeare—who was directly descended from Shakespeare's brother—often wore dresses with transparent panels, which rendered her effectively topless. (Marie Claire magazine recently included a photo of Shakespeare among the 30 most scandalous Met Gala dresses of all time.) She cooked weekly dinners at their gallery, which drew politicians, artists, and such celebrities as Robert De Niro and John F. Kennedy Jr.
Fugate-Wilcox developed Parkinson's disease in 2005, which he attributes to the toxicity of September 11. (He lived a couple blocks from the World Trade Center.) His wife contracted cancer, and eventually died of an untreatable infection in 2011. Why is he in Hudson? "I was brought up here by a collector who saw I wasn't behaving properly when my wife died," Fugate-Wilcox recalls. He finds the Hudson Valley rejuvenating.
On June 22, "The New Divine Feminine" exhibition will open at Shakespeare's Fulcrum, 612 Warren Street, in Hudson and run through July 19.