Franklin Furnace was founded in 1976 by artist Martha Wilson to champion ephemeral forms neglected by mainstream arts institutions. We have developed a place in art history for artists' books, temporary installation art, and performance art, and researched the history of the contemporary artists' book through such exhibitions as Cubist Prints/Cubist Books, The Avant-Garde Book: 1900-1945, Fluxus: A Conceptual Country, as well as thematic shows such as Artists' Books: Japan, Multiples by Latin American Artists, Contemporary Russian Samizdat, and Eastern European Artists' Books. Taken together, the magazines and catalogues published to document these exhibitions form a history that is still not available under one cover.
The organization set upon a course of substantial change in 1993 when its collection of artists' books published internationally after 1960, the largest in the United States, was acquired by the Museum of Modern Art in New York. More recently, on September 8, 1997, Franklin Furnace sold its loft and established a Cash Reserve, matching in part a challenge grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.
During its 20th anniversary season, Franklin Furnace reinvented itself as a "virtual institution," not identified with its real estate but rather with its resources, made accessible by electronic and other means. Like all not-for-profit cultural institutions, we are fundamentally chartered for the purpose of education. We propose to continue, as we have since 1985, to hire practicing artists to work in the New York City school system under the aegis of Sequential Art for Kids and develop new ways for our materials to serve as the basis of curriculum development. Franklin Furnace's website receives more than four million hits per year, reaching an international audience of every stripe, including artists, arts professionals, scholars and the general public.
Franklin Furnace has had an indelible impact upon art by launching the careers of artists whose work has influenced art and cultural discourse in this country. Franklin Furnace's niche remains the bottom of the food chain, premiering artists in New York who later emerge as art world stars: Ida Applebroog, Eric Bogosian, David Cale, Patty Chang, Willie Cole, Nicole Eisenman, Karen Finley, Guillermo Gomez-Pena, Ann Hamilton, Murray Hill, Jenny Holzer, Barbara Kruger, Sherrie Levine, Liza Lou, Robbie McCauley, William Pope.L, Theodora Skipitares, Michael Smith, Annie Sprinkle, Krzysztof Wodiczko, Paul Zaloom, and hundreds of others.
During its 30th anniversary season, Franklin Furnace received support from the National Endowment for the Humanities and signed a collaboration agreement with ARTstor to digitize and publish on the web documentation of events it presented and produced, with the goal of embedding the value of ephemeral art practice in art and cultural history. In 2010, Franklin Furnace received its second major grant from the NEH to digitize the event archives of its second decade, 1986 to 1996; and to publish these records on Franklin Furnace's website with the goal of embedding the value of ephemeral art practice in art and cultural history.