Categories: Animals | Insects | Fish, Entrepreneurship, Environment
In the 1960s, Joey Skaggs found an antique cast iron bath tub with claw legs and brass fixtures on the street. He dragged it into his Lower East Side loft and filled the bottom with dirt, creating a terrarium to which he added an N gage electric train set, lizards, newts, and horn toads. He covered it with a glass top and had a coffee table that was far more interesting than most of what he could watch on TV.
Almost twenty years later, while visiting Atlanta during the summer of 1983, Skaggs went to a privately owned toy museum when bad weather grounded him from flying lessons. Watching what people were attracted to, he noticed that people ambled, with barely a glance, past painstakingly crafted doll-houses under glass that kept them dust-free and out of reach. He figured they were just too static. Perhaps if they were filled with water and fish people would notice them.
This idea–coupled with concerns about the deterioration of our natural resources, plus the fact that New York neighborhoods were being condominium-ized, with gentrification 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. As he said at the time, “Since we are continually polluting the oceans of the world, fish will eventually need better homes in which to live.”
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 feature in the November 28, 1983 issue.
As a result, Life magazine, Good Morning America, the Merv Griffin Show, the Regis Philbin Show, Live at Five, CBS National News, and many other television shows and print publications covered Skaggs’ Fish Condos.
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.
Excerpt from German TV’s “America”:
Buyers for the Neiman Marcus catalog pursued Skaggs for seven years, asking him to make his Fish Condos available in their famous Christmas Catalog. He declined each time because the tanks are individually hand-crafted and he did not have time to create large quantities. His desire was (and continues to be) to have them mass-produced and distributed for a far lower price than his prototype sculptures.
In 1996, Skaggs finally agreed, and the Fish Condos along with a Japanese Tea House Playhouse he designed were featured for sale in the Neiman Marcus Christmas catalog.
In April, 2020, Skaggs created a Fish Condo video for “Closed: SOS Mother Earth”, a virtual exhibition with the Miami Hispanic Cultural Arts Center honoring Earth Day.
The exhibition is here on Facebook and the Fish Condo video is here:
To see more Fish Condos, visit Gallery/Fish Condos.
For a list of museum and gallery exhibitions as well as worldwide media coverage, visit here. Selected print materials are below in Documentation.
- Art and Sole, New York, November 28, 1983
- In the Arts: Critics' Choice, by Michael Brenson, New York Times, December 25, 1983
- Just One More, Life, February 1984
- Notizen, Ambiente (German), February, 1984
- Fish Condos, Stern (German), February 16, 1984
- Fish Tanks Go Condo, by Martha Carroll, Pet Dealer, March 1984
- Fish Habitat, House Beautiful, April 1984
- Front Runners: He'll put a living room in your fish tank, Us, April 9, 1984
- Swank Fish Tank, National Enquirer, April 17, 1984
- L'Homme Qui Veut Distraire Les Poissons Rouge, Madame Figaro (French), April 28, 1984
- La Felicita'? E' un Acquario Arredato!, Amica (Italian), May 15, 1984
- Home Sweet Home in Fish Condos, Dynomite, June 1984
- Modélisme: Joey Skaggs L'Agité du Bocal, New Look (French), June 1984
- Fish and Chic: New York Discovers a New Wave Tank: London Times, July 1, 1984
- Condofiniums, Diversion, August 1984
- Trends: Classy condos for fish, edited by Jane Ellis, New York Post, August 2, 1984
- Trends & News, Reich mir die Flosse, Genosse, Carina (German), December 1984
- Celebrating her big splash..., Us, December 3, 1984
- The man who builds Condos for Fish, Globe, January 1, 1985
- Condofiniums, Sojourn, February 1, 1985
- Scale Models, Gadget Newsletter, July 1985
- Apartments für Zierfische, Die Geschaftsidee (German), October 5, 1985
- Playboy After Hours, December 1985
- Piscean Condos, Home, May 1986
- Condos for the Upwardly Mobile Guppy, New Look, May 1986
- Only condo denizens are fishy in this story, by Dylan Landis, Chicago Tribune, June 1, 1986
- A Santa for really spoiled kids, by Richard Wilner, New York Post, September 10, 1996
- Page Six, Funny money, by Richard Johnson, New York Post, September 25, 1996
- Believe It or Not, Food & Wine, November 1996
- The Age of Aquariums, Neiman Marcus Christmas Catalog, December 1996
- Funky Fish: Shalom to all that, New York, December 2, 1996
- Wow Shot: A Fish's Wish, Owl, May 2001
- Fish Condo Virtual Exhibition with the Miami Hispanic Cultural Arts Center on Facebook, April, 2020
- ‘El arte salva’, una exposición virtual por el Día de la Tierra, el Nuevo Herald, April 7, 2020 (in Spanish)