Fish Condos
1983 to Present
New York, New York

In the 1960's, as an artist on the lower East Side of New York, Skaggs found an antique cast iron bath tub, with claw legs and brass fixtures on the street and dragged it into his 2nd Street loft. He filled the bottom with dirt and created a terrarium. He then added an N gage electric train set. Then came the lizards, newts, and horn toads and a glass top. Presto, he had a coffee table that was far more interesting than most of what was on TV.

Almost twenty years later, during the summer of 1983, after several days of bad weather in Atlanta which grounded him from flying lessons, Skaggs visited a privately owned toy museum. He was amused by what people were attracted to. He watched how people walked past painstakingly crafted doll-houses which were housed under glass to keep them dust-free and out of reach. He thought to himself, "Perhaps they're just too static. They should be filled with water and fish. Maybe then people would notice."

This idea, coupled with the fact that in 1983 New York neighborhoods were being condo-ized and massive gentrification of some of the best, least expensive neighborhoods was robbing artists of affordable spaces, inspired Skaggs to make a satirical commentary. He created working aquariums for upwardly mobile guppies and called them Fish Condos.

Skaggs soon filled his Waverly Place studio with bedrooms, bathrooms, kitchens, and living rooms for fish. A call to New York Magazine "Best Bets" yielded a full page spread in the November 28, 1983 issue. From there Skaggs was called by Life Magazine, Good Morning America, Merv Griffin, Regis Philbin, Live at Five, CBS National News... The list went on and on.

This satirical statement quickly became a media phenomenon and was widely embraced by the New York art scene. In essence the yuppies Skaggs was satirizing became his greatest supporters. Fish Condos were exhibited in galleries and museums and were televised around the world.

The Neiman Marcus Christmas Catalog buyers pursued Skaggs and his Fish Condos relentlessly for years. But he was not willing to create large quantities by hand. Each tank is individually hand-crafted. His desire was, and continues to be, to have them mass-produced and distributed -- sold for a far lower price than the going rate for the his artist's prototypes. But, finally Skaggs succumbed, hoping that this exposure would attract a manufacturer.The Fish Condos were featured for sale for $5,000 in the 1996 Neiman Marcus Christmas catalog.

As Skaggs says, "Since we are continually polluting the oceans of the world, fish will eventually need a better home in which to live."

© 1997 Joey Skaggs