Peter Forakis (1927-2009): In Memoriam


Peter Forakis, Atlanta Gateway, 1967

From The New York Times, December 17, 2009

Peter Forakis, a sculptor who helped found Park Place, a prominent New York artists’ cooperative gallery of the 1960s, died on Nov. 26 in Petaluma, Calif. He was 82 and lived in Petaluma.

His death was announced by the Togonon Gallery in San Francisco, which has represented him since 2007.

Mr. Forakis was one of many young artists in the late ’50s and early ’60s who took up geometry and moved into three-dimensional space as a way to avoid the omnipresence of Abstract Expressionism.

Born in Hanna, Wyoming, to Greek immigrants, he grew up in California, in Oakland and Modesto, and served in the merchant marine from 1949 to 1950 and in the military in Korea from 1951 to 1953. He earned a bachelor of fine arts degree from the California School of Fine Arts (now the San Francisco Art Institute) in 1957 and moved to New York in 1958. Over the next few years he went from concentrating on painting to making sculptures, just as geometry was becoming a force in both mediums, but especially in sculpture, Minimalist and not.

In 1963, a group that included Mr. Forakis, Mark di Suvero, Robert Grosvenor and Forrest Myers started exhibiting their work, playing free jazz and discussing the future of public sculpture in a floor at the top of a loft building in Lower Manhattan near Park Place, where several of them lived. The first director was John Gibson, who would later have a gallery of his own.

However geometrically inclined, these artists avoided the simple, stable shapes of Minimalism. Their best-known member, Mr. di Suvero, favored dynamic, open structures of tilted and balanced beams, objects and forms. His Park Place colleagues worked with and against his influence, usually with more streamlined forms or brighter colors.

Often consisting of repeating, flattened volumes tilted on a corner, Mr. Forakis’s work had a mathematical demeanor; sometimes it evoked the black, chunky forms of the Minimalist sculptor Tony Smith.

In 1965 Park Place relocated to 542 West Broadway (now La Guardia Place) and became known for ecumenical invitationals that included artists as varied as Ronald Bladen, Al Held, Eva Hesse, Sol LeWitt, Brice Marden, Sylvia Stone, Ronnie Landfield, Carl Andre and Joan Jonas. Park Place closed in 1967. A year later its second director, Paula Cooper, opened her own gallery on Prince Street in SoHo, and for a time represented a few Park Place artists.

In addition to Park Place, Mr. Forakis had New York solo shows in the 1960s at the Brata Gallery, the David Anderson Gallery and the Tibor de Nagy Gallery. In 1966 his work appeared in “Primary Structures,” an important exhibition of geometric sculpture at the Jewish Museum.

Mr. Forakis returned to Northern California in 1979. His last New York show was at the Max Hutchinson Gallery in 1982.

He is represented in several public collections and numerous commissions in Atlanta, Denver, Oakland, Nyack, N.Y., and elsewhere. In 2008 his work was included in “Reimagining Space: The Park Place Gallery Group in 1960s New York” at the Blanton Museum of Art at the University of Texas in Austin.

Mr. Forakis’s marriage to the artist Phyllis Yampolsky ended in divorce. He is survived by a daughter, Christina Forakis of Sacramento, who is the child of an earlier relationship; and by two children from his marriage to Ms. Yampolsky, Gia Forakis of New York City and Jozeph Forakis of Milan.