Patti Astor, Doyenne of New York’s Avant-Garde Scene, Dies at 74

Patti Astor, the downtown Manhattan “It” girl, indie film star and co-founder of Fun Gallery, the scruffy East Village storefront space that in the early 1980s nurtured young graffiti artists like Futura2000, Zephyr, Lee Quinones, Lady Pink and Fab 5 Freddy, as well as showcasing artists like Keith Haring, Kenny Scharf and Jean-Michel Basquiat, died on April 9 at her home in Hermosa Beach, Calif. She was 74.

Her death was confirmed by Richard Roth, a friend. No cause was given.

With her platinum hair, raspy voice and glamorous ’50s-style dresses, Ms. Astor was a formidable presence among the music, film and art makers who gathered at the Mudd Club in TriBeCa. In the summer of 1981, one of her nightclub buddies, Bill Stelling, told her that he had rented a small storefront on East 11th Street with the thought of turning it into a gallery. Did she know any artists?

“Yeah,” she said, “I know a few.”

The place was just eight by 25 feet, and the idea was to make a gallery by artists, for artists. They had no money and no art experience, but they had a lot of creative friends.

The first show there was an exhibition of pencil drawings by Steven Kramer, Ms. Astor’s husband at the time; all 20 of the pieces sold, at $50 each, which seemed like a promising beginning. Mr. Scharf, who had already turned all of the appliances at Ms. Astor’s home into his signature outer-space critters, was offered the next show. He was also given the opportunity to name the place for its duration.

“My stuff was fun, so fun seemed like a good name,” Mr. Scharf said in a phone interview.

Fred Brathwaite, otherwise known as Fab 5 Freddy, was show No. 3, and his plan was to name the place the Serious Gallery. But by then Ms. Astor had bought stationery stamped “Fun” and had run out of money. Also, as she often said, “the name was so stupid it stuck.”

Ms. Astor in 1983 in the backyard of Fun Gallery in the East Village during the opening of a show. Fun Gallery openings were mobbed, as uptown dealers and collectors mixed with D.J.s and aspiring teenage graffiti artists.Credit…Allan Tannenbaum/Getty Images
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