Wednesday, July 3, 2024

RIP Anton van Dalen

Photo by Anthony Lindsey from the documentary, "Anton: Circling Home"

Longtime East Village-based artist Anton van Dalen passed away in his home on June 25. He was 86.

P·P·O·W, the gallery that had represented him over the years, announced that he died of natural causes in his sleep. 

Some background on his life and work:
Van Dalen was born in Amstelveen, Holland, in 1938 to a conservative Calvinist family during World War II. He began rearing pigeons at 12, seeking solace in the companionship of a community outside the instability around him. 

Enraptured by the magic of their flight, van Dalen saw his own migration journey, from Holland to Canada and ultimately to the United States, reflected in the migratory nature of the birds.

After arriving in New York's Lower East Side in 1966, before ultimately settling in the East Village, van Dalen served as witness, storyteller, and documentarian of the dramatic cultural shifts in the neighborhood.

While active in the alternative art scene in the East Village during the 1980s, van Dalen began his career as a graphic designer. Working as a studio assistant to Saul Steinberg for over 30 years, van Dalen learned the stylization and design aesthetics that would ultimately ground the visual language he used to discuss the culture around him.

Van Dalen became known for his Night Street Drawings (1975–77), a monochrome series of graphite drawings documenting the surrounding Lower East Side with tenderness and empathy, including vignettes of car wrecks, sex workers, crumbling buildings, and more.

As poet and critic John Yau wrote, all of van Dalen's work arose "out of a meticulous draftsmanship in service of an idiosyncratic imagination merged with civic-mindedness."
Van Dalen lived at 166 Avenue A — the PEACE house — between 10th Street and 11th Street since 1971. He documented the changes there in this post for EVG. 

His flock of snow-white pigeons from his rooftop loft were a common site in the nearby skies. (Photo from 2015 by Grant Shaffer.)
We had the great pleasure of meeting van Dalen several times, first over a dinner at Odessa. We appreciated his kind, thoughtful manner and deep affinity for the East Village. He shared several dispatches with us over the years (see the end of this post for a selection). 

Van Dalen was especially upset about the 2013 demolition of the Mary Help of Christians church, school, and rectory on Avenue A between 11th Street and 12th Street, which made way for the block-long Steiner East Village condoplex. 

He shared this photo and sketch for a post in August 2013.
The  neighborhood's transformation was a common theme in his work, as seen in his one-man performance piece "Avenue A Cutout Theatre," which featured "a portable model of his house, which he uses as a staging ground for telling the story of the evolution of the East Village."
He first performed the Avenue A Cut-Out Theatre in 1995 at the University Settlement House on the Lower East Side. The performance has been shown at numerous institutions, including the Museum of Modern Art and The New York Historical Society. 

As he wrote in a post for EVG in October 2020: 
I consider myself a documentarian of the East Village, yet I am a participant and spectator to its evolution. Began documenting my street surroundings in 1975, urged on by wanting to note and remember these lives. Came to realize I had to embrace wholeheartedly, with pencil in hand, my streets with its raw emotions.
Van Dalen is survived by his older brother, Leen van Dalen; his two children, Marinda and Jason; their spouses, René van Haaften and Ali Villagra; and three grandchildren, Cleo, Aster, and Diego.

P·P·O·W said that memorial service announcements will be forthcoming.

Previously on EV Grieve


Paul M said...

That is very sad news. He was an incredibly generous man and a wonderful neighbor.


So sad to hear this. Years ago during all of that 7 Eleven business, he gave us a tour of his home leading up to the roof where his pigeons lived. Such a sweet, kind man.

Laura Goggin said...

Sad news! He was an inspiration. I love his art and seeing his pigeon flock flying over Avenue A was a magical way to end the day. Condolences to his family and friends. This is a great loss for our community.

Anonymous said...

Oh this is sad but how lucky were we to have him in our neighborhood? I moved here in 2007 and lived across Ave A from Anton. We used to sit on the roof, and the first time we saw him come out and tend to his pigeons it surprised me (total newbie to the city). But it was beautiful to watch him climb up with his tools and guide them out, and to watch them swirl around the sky - and come slowly circle back to their roost. When I moved from that apartment I would catch sight of the birds sometimes if I looked up walking around Ave A. Seeing them flying during the pandemic was a sign that some things were still ok. Things change and this sucks, but he made changes to his community that were great. I can only dream to be as important as Anton.

Anonymous said...

When I was a kid, I knew of Anton via painter friends who suggested I take his drawing class at SVA. It was the late 1980s. Unfortunately, I lost all financial support after choosing classes for my sophomore year, so I missed out. I always regretted it, especially after seeing more and more of his work over the years. It was a fluke that we became neighbors years later, but knowing he was around the corner always brought me a sense of security because I knew of his goodness and kindness. Lately I've been spending time with pigeons in the park, and I always think of Anton. He gave so much and put exquisite light into the world in ways that only true artists can do. We can all learn from his example: Take part in your community, reflect your thoughts through meaningful art, be good to people, be a decent person. Much love to his family.

Anonymous said...

So sad. I just wore his tribute tee to Ukraine the other day and thought about him.

Trixie said...

He was a good friend, a good neighbor, and whenever we were together it was always like we were in on something special, no matter what it was we were up to. My heart goes out to his family and friends. We've all lost someone very special to us.

XTC said...

Surprising he isn't more well known. I guess his hardcore social imagery of LES street life wasn't considered a big seller in the 70'80's. I'll take his Burning Car over Keith Haring's crawling baby any day of the week. It would be cool if his smaller sculptures of crumbling buildings, fascist cops, burning cars, and the like could be scaled up to much larger pieces and displayed in TSP.

He was a humanist.

Annie said...

What a wonderful tribute. Thank you.

EVQP said...

Oh, Anton...RIP. My husband and I were just saying we hadn't seen him around for a few months. He was a wonderful neighbor, artist, and ally in neighborhood issues. What a loss for the neighborhood and world.

Anonymous said...

RIP kind sir....

Anonymous said...

RIP, such a wonderful human that loved our neighborhood . Condolences to his family.

MC said...

RIP Anton! I've watched your beautiful pigeons near Avenue A for years and appreciated the message of PEACE on your building. I'll think of you every time I pass your earthly space and send you some loving vibes.

Longtimelesres said...

Anton was a charter member of The North Avenue A Neighborhood Association, a group of residents who live on and off of A between 9th and 14th, fighting for retail diversity and small business preservation. I remember bumping into him when I was getting petition signatures opposing yet another bar on North Ave A. He remembered me from some other things we did together in the early days of the AIDS epidemic. He gave me a kiss on the cheek as he often did with close friends. He told me how eager he was to get involved in preserving the neighborhood. We could always count on him to show up at every CB 3 meeting and he would wait for hours if need be to tell his story and speak about the need to preserve the neighborhood. I also remember how rude many of the members of CB 3 including Carlina were to him, and thinking show some respect to this man. They had no clue his art work is in the permanent collection of the Whitney, Guggenheim and MOMA. He never mentioned that though. He was kind, humble, articulate, loving, generous and funny. North Avenue A, the East Village and NYC has lost a real prince. A man I am always grateful I got to know again.

Longtimelesres said...

I live right across the street from Anton and would bump into him often. We became closer as the years went by and he and his lady friend at the time invited me and my lady friend for breakfast. We got to see his studio, which was basically an attic with no heat or ac. It reminded me of a tree house. The best part was when he took us up to the roof to meet his birds. He put one on my lady friends finger and the bird didn't move until he told it to. At which point it took off and starting circling followed by the rest of the flock. He told us that there were dozens of roof top pigeon coops in the hood when he moved here in the 60s. He loved those birds and they loved him. Such joy he brought to all of us.

Anonymous said...

A life well lived
That first picture is lovely

Polterman said...

What a sweet man we lost! Rarely have I met a person so kind, interested and interesting - and never a person who recounted his childhood experience of bombs being dropped on his hometown by my ancestors, sharing it as just one more story during yet another friendly conversation we had on the street. Unbeknownst to him, he ended up photo-bombing a photo I took outside of Tompkins Square Bagels with some members of my family from Germany. I think we would have appreciated the irony - a peaceful masked avenger with bagels in his hand.