Adam Golfer

Steve Cannon, Whose Townhouse Was an East Village Salon, Dies at 84

Steve Cannon at his townhouse in the East Village in 2014 as he was preparing to move out. He had overseen a salon there, opening his doors and welcoming artists, musicians, poets and others to join a conversation that meandered for decades. Credit: Adam Golfer | NYTimes.com

Steve Cannon at his townhouse in the East Village in 2014 as he was preparing to move out. He had overseen a salon there, opening his doors and welcoming artists, musicians, poets and others to join a conversation that meandered for decades.
Credit: Adam Golfer | NYTimes.com

By Colin Moynihan

For years, Steve Cannon, a writer and publisher, maintained an open-door policy at his three-story Federal-style townhouse in the East Village of Manhattan, creating a salon that welcomed a revolving cast of visitors to join a continuing conversation.

Painters, poets, musicians and composers showed up. So did a grab bag of others who wandered in, some by pure chance. And presiding over it all was Mr. Cannon, who had lost his eyesight to glaucoma in 1989.

Mr. Cannon died on July 7 at 84. A half sister, Evelyn Omega Cannon, said the cause was believed to be septic shock following hip surgery at a Veterans Affairs hospital in Manhattan.

Mr. Cannon bought the townhouse, on East Third Street between Avenues C and D, in 1970. In the early 1990s he started a literary magazine there, A Gathering of the Tribes, along with an art gallery. Writers like Paul Beatty and Miguel Algarin contributed to the magazine.

The publication and gallery reflected the grit and creativity of the neighborhood in the 1990s, when the East Village, not yet gentrified, was still a bastion of the avant-garde.

Something always seemed to be happening at Mr. Cannon’s place. Annual festivals honoring the great jazz saxophonist Charlie Parker were planned there. Ishmael Reed, one of Mr. Cannon’s longtime friends, read his work at the gallery. Members of the experimental Sun Ra Arkestra performed in the backyard.

The artist David Hammons, another friend, once painted a wall inside the gallery as part of an installation. Among the regular visitors was the cornetist and composer Butch Morris, an East Village neighbor who had created a form of large-ensemble music built on collective improvisation.

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A Blind Publisher, Poet — and Link to the Lower East Side’s Cultural History

ONE AFTERNOON LAST fall, Steve Cannon — who is also known as Professor Steve, the only blind gallery owner in the history of New York and, in the words of his friend Ishmael Reed, “the emperor of the Lower East Side” — was sitting on the couch in his small East Village apartment, wearing Mardi Gras beads over a sweater, his glaucoma-clouded eyes covered by sunglasses. He was talking about how he decided to start the arts organization A Gathering of the Tribes, a magazine and former gallery that is a kind of manifestation of Cannon himself.

The idea came to him one night in 1990 at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe, which was a block away from the building he owned at the time on East Third Street. The Nuyorican opened down the street in 1981, and by 1990 its poetry slams had become a downtown sensation. Cannon, the author of the legendary but little-read 1969 book “Groove, Bang and Jive Around,” which Reed calls a “pre-rap novel” that predicted the spoken-word style that was flourishing at the Nuyorican in the late ’80s, was the club’s resident heckler, shouting at hesitant performers to get on with it and “read the goddamn poem.”

He was there with his friend David Hammons, a renowned artist so famously reclusive and unreachable that the very idea of him having a friend seems strange, like trying to imagine Thomas Pynchon buying toilet paper. Cannon and Hammons met on a park bench in the late ’70s, a few years after Hammons arrived in New York from the West Coast and began making mordant, provocative sculptures that dealt with black identity, using discarded materials he gathered around the city. A gardening spade with chains dangling from it lampooned racist terminology; bottle caps gathered from bars were used to adorn comically tall basketball hoops in a 1986 public installation called “Higher Goals”; hair swept from the floors of black barbershops became a leitmotif of many sculptures and installations. Hammons would often find these materials on long walks from his studio in Harlem all the way downtown, where Cannon’s house was a regular stop.

Read the full article here.