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“Colab Redux,” Refried Collectivity

summer exhibition at Brooke Alexander Gallery

Colab (officially Collaborative Projects, Inc., founded 1977) was one in a string of New York City artists’ groups that started most strongly in the 1960s. Artists’ groups have had an escalating impact on the conventional art world. Today a number have roughly equal status with prominent individuals.

[Note of disclosure: I was a member of Colab, and have published on the group’s activities.]

Jenny Holzer & Peter NadinJenny Holzer & Peter Nadin
"Colab Redux"
The group Colab experienced its moment of triumph in 1980, with the Times Square Show. Almost immediately, it was looted of several key members by the art dealer Brooke Alexander. Now his gallery mounts an exhibition entitled “Colab Redux.”

“Looted”? A strong word. Really, there’s no blame. Brooke Alexander simply seed his opportunity and he took it. At that moment there was no reason to think that Colab was anything more than a new sort of cooperative galley, like AIR or 55 Mercer. And wasn’t it, as Walter Robinson once described it, like a “farm team” for the big leagues of the artworld?

Like a record company A&R man, Brooke Alexander was simply there the fustest with the mostest (cash). In offering all those artists one person shows, diverting their energies to making a solo bang in his gallery space – he strip mined the collective. Money changes everything. So what?

Artists’ groups are inherently unstable, shortlived. You can give ‘em a push. And now we understand, as Margaret Thatcher explained after the Wall fell in ’89, that there is no alternative to hyper-capitalism. Our increasingly totalized global cultural experience is mediated only by the complete equivalence of cash. Now we are offered Brooke Alexander’s “Colab” as a chunk of unexplicated disconnected work done by people who knew each other at a moment in time. You know, a group. Like the Impressionist “group,” or something.

For years Colab made contest with the “bureaucrats” of New York’s non-profit, institutional alternative spaces. Then many members took up the offers and conditions of private capital. Key members of the group abdicated their emerging collective political and cultural position for their careers. Colab became Coliberal. Hey, no problem. It was the ‘80s. Reagan was gonna pull the alternative money plug anyhow. And after all, why are you in New York?

Those decisions led to a dramatic diminution of what we may call Colab’s social capital, its reputation. The historical trajectory of the most significant artists’ collectives is political and social. They play key roles in cultural and political movements. These are not primarily economic self-help groups. To draw them down and demean them is to damage their historical positionality in the grand tradition of which they are a part.

“Colab Redux” now reinscribes for a new century the moment when group two of Colab devolved. Now it’s Coneoliberal.

Yeah, yeah, whine, whine. But people gotta eat. And they gotta do bizness. This sarcastic critique is unfair to a striving dealer with a bunch of vintage stuff he’d like to roll out.

Unfortunately, the show is senseless. Sure, most of the people exhibited here were in, or had something to do with Colab, or worked with others who worked in the group – but why are these things on the wall with that name above them? No explanation is attempted. No essay. No catalogue.

The show speaks to the New York commercial artworld’s love of a lack of historical context. This is the favored operational mode of thieves, and a reflexive habit among most antique dealers. Everything is “merch.” (“It’s a nice piece.” – “Where’d it come from?” – “Do you really care?”)

Still, congratulations to Brooke Alexander, longtime publisher of innumerable lovely editions, for raising the question. Although he has no answer, and I cannot pass up this opportunity to give him a hard time, his problem is that there has been no context established for saying “Colab” in a contemporary exhibition. Why? New York City’s art institutions traditionally don’t give a shit about the cultural history that takes place in their city. They make little effort to explain it to the city’s public. There has never been a retrospective exhibition about Colab – or any of the other organizations, groups and scenes that fed into it.

The tiny exceptions comprise a pathetic list. “A Partial View of Fashion Moda: Photographs by Lisa Kahane,” Lehman College of Art in 1996; they cut out the graffiti (the soul of Fashion Moda) ‘cause it might offend the politicians. Julie Ault’s important “Cultural Economies: Histories from the Alternative Arts Movement, NYC,” at The Drawing Center in ’96, from which came a book to multiple printings. Matthew Yokobosky’s “No Wave Cinema, 1978-87” at the Whitney in ‘97 began to engage some of the media material of the era, most of which is not being preserved. (But really, who care about artists’ video?) Dan Cameron’s “East Village USA” at the temporary New Museum in ’04 was a good effort.

This institutional shortfall can’t be because audiences don’t like this kind of history show. The Tate Liverpool had to do NYC’s ‘60s in “Summer of Love,” and feed it back to us. Big success. When NYU’s Grey Art Gallery finally did “The Downtown Show: The New York Art Scene, 1974–1984” in which Colab figured, it traveled the country.

But still, NYC art institutions are allergic to dust. They got a lot of stuff, but they really don’t like the dull effort of thought required to make enough sense of it to show it. (It’s like negotiating with tenants – Boring! Rather be flipping.) In a real sense, Colab’s war with the institutions of art continues. This is a position they share with nearly every other artists’ group of the past 50 years, and all the now-vanished cultural districts of the city.

Like a starved and skinny beast, Colab and its confreres haunts the halls of New York museums, searching endlessly for a vitrine. Perhaps this is best… Let Colab remain among the legions of unquiet dead. Except for the parts of it that got sold, Colab is still part of the undercommons – “Legendary” – like the werewolf. Here’s to the moonrise.
Jenny Holzer & Peter NadinJenny Holzer & Peter NadinJenny Holzer & Peter NadinJenny Holzer & Peter Nadin

Cranky Old Man with an Ax to Grind

Thanks, Robin, for your reflection on aging. I think of myself as an “old man,” but not as elderly. Maybe because that term always comes up in the sense of people who are getting into trouble because of physical incapacity, like can’t be evacuated from Katrina’s path, and so on. We’ll get there soon enough, but ain’t there yet. And all these memories… they are presently encased in brains made new over a few times, I guess.
Anyhow, I worry when I blast away at cultural actors. So, after posting this screed, I thought it over again, what is the basic disagreement here. I think it is a matter of projecting my definitions onto Brooke Alexander and his gallery enterprise. My anger comes from disappointed expectations. The notion, with which I was trained, was that there exists a creative community in which dealers support artists' initiatives as well as sell their products. It’s an old-fashioned idea, I guess, left over from the days of small magazines and poet-critics. Brooke Alexander was much more in tune with today’s art = capital reality. The initiatives that are supported today build capital, not community. Uh oh, I’m starting again...
What I meant to say is that I privilege a different model of collaboration than Brooke Alexander. And Colab was exactly this – Collaborative Projects, not collective projects. The difference – especially 30 years ago, when the Cold War was still full on – was in perceived political engagement. So it is only the “third hand” that’s on show here. That is, in terms of frames for artists working together, this is the Charles Green version of collectivity which is collaboration. It’s not the Blake Stimson & Greg Sholette version of collectivism after modernism, which ultimately about what Gerald Raunig called “instituent practice.”
If Colab was about artists collaborating to make gallery objects, then this show was mostly pretty on point. It spotlights the Nadin/Holzer colab, which hadn't anything really to do with Colab at all. (Although it did have to do with the short-lived Colab spin-off called Offices of Fend, Fitzgibbon, Holzer, Nadin, Prince and Winters.) So rather than “Colab Redux,” this show might better have been called “Collaborations of the '80s, with Some Artists Affiliated with Colab.” That’s precise.
-- Comwaag

Dear Cranky Old Man...

Well, whether we like it or not we are now "elders", hence "elderly" to the youngsters and that's as good of a position as any to pontificate from. Ok, given the alternative of being dead it's the only position. I'm now an old white guy and after years looking younger than my age I now look older I found I now do a pretty passable William Burroughs immitation.

Since I have absolutely no connection to Colab but have found myself surrounded by its alumni over the years the exhibit, which I've only viewed online, seemed to be missing a great deal of work of artists from that time though it's great to see Judy Rifka, Richard Bosman (whatever happened to him?) and Peter Nadin. I've certainly had enough of Tom Otterness and Kiki Smith, both of whom I consider good 7th grade art teachers but not much more. What do you think of the influence of Joseph Kosuth and the boom in market-driven art starting with the East Village galleries? How about the current collaborative art on myspace and surf clubs? What is their link to the goals of Colab? That is if it had any goals. I always saw it as a bunch of straights fucking each other. A continuation of their MFAs.

Me, I'm concentrating on vagabond apparatuses

cranky collaborative audio: TellusTools 2xLP set @ continuo blog

Hi Murph

Here is some warmed-over collaborative art for you from the Colab crib:

A few Tellus tapes were funded by Colab. (You are right, there may have been some grinding involved).

mp3s of TellusTools 2xLP set
Total time: 47:40
2xLP released 2001, Harvestworks TE-LP01

Curated by Taketo Shimada.

Gatefold cover art by Christian Marclay.

A legendary twin-release, TellusTools was a 2LP set meant as a Tellus resumé and a DJ tool, albeit purposedly intended for ‘perspective DJs’ (according to liner notes). Basically, this is a Tellus survey conceived by curator Taketo Shimada, with 7 Tellus sound excerpts added at end of side 2 for break-beat purposes. Both discs have the same content to allow creative mixing on 2 turntables. A New York resident since the late 1980s, Taketo Shimada graduated from MIT in 1997. A visual artist and musician, he was then a member of the band Messages along Tres Warren. He has worked with Herbert Huncke, Henry Flynt, Rammellzee, Cory Arcangel, Lary 7 and Alison Knowles, a.o. He organized the Fluxsweet event performances at Harvestworks, NYC, 2005, taking part in performing sound art pieces by Alison Knowles, Joe Jones and Larry Miller, along performers Kirby Gookin, Beckett Gookin, Jessica Higgins, Alison Knowles, Nancy Hwang and Noura Al-Salem. The TellusTools’ cover art by Christian Marclay is gorgeous, an arrangement of spread out Tellus cassettes and dischevelled audio tape. Musically speaking, the choice is clearly aiming at sound art – no electric guitar here, no improvisation, no theater–, and participants are mostly US sound artists from NY’s early 1990s art milieu. Basquiat even found his way – along Rammelzee – on Isaac Jackson’s radio show excerpt from 1982, for an exqusite early hip-hop session. Other tracks include concrete/plunderphonic experiments, avant-song and performance pieces.

01 Nicolas Collins ‘Devil’s Music 1 (excerpt)’ (3:26)
02 Louise Lawler ‘Birdcalls’ (6:30)
03 Isaac Jackson ‘Messages (excerpts)’ (6:28)
04 Kiki Smith ‘Life Want To Live’ (1:40)
05 Alan Tomlinson ‘Floor Polish Tango’ (3:26)
06 Joe Jones ‘Flux Music Box’ (2:28)
07 Christian Marclay ‘Groove’ (5:06)
08 Alison Knowles ‘Nivea Cream Piece’ (2:32)
09 Ken Montgomery ‘ICEBREAKER (excerpt)’ (6:49)
10 Catherine Jauniaux & Ikue Mori ‘Smell’ (4:56)
Break beats:
11 David Linton ‘Shattering Glass’ (0:43)
12 Gregory Whitehead ‘Eva Can I Stab Bats In A Cave’ (0:35)
13 The League Of Automatic Composers ‘Micro-Computer Network’ (0:40)
14 Maurice Lemaître ‘Lettre Rock’ (0:38)
15 Jerry Lindhal ‘The Indian Elephant’ (0:35)
16 Tim Schellenbaum ‘Tarantela’ (0:37)
17 Jack Goldstein ‘The Weep’ (0

Elderly Male Models Storm the Spring ’09 Runways

There's hope for us yet in fashion! Elderly is the new youth.
From this week's New York Magazine:

Hey fellas! Is your skin not so taut? Is your hair turning gray? Have you lost that pep in your step but not in your spirit? Well, modeling may be the career for you! Designers in Paris went gaga over older guys when casting their spring '09 shows. Yohji Yamamoto started the trend casting a handful of men over 60, one of whom, as we delightfully noted, appeared to "slightly drag a leg," for his Paris show last week. Ann Demeulemeester picked up where Yohji left off, sending ten elderly gentlemen out on the runway. And agnès b.'s show kicked off with a cheery, aging chap playing the flute. We can't wait to see what Karl Lagerfeld and John Galliano have planned for the couture shows (which start today), but topping these castings isn't going to be easy. Perhaps Robert Redford is available?

Related: Adorable Old Men Walk in Yohji Yamamoto’s Show

depressed by the prospect of dying?

Older guys

Are you depressed by the prospect of dying? Well, if you can hang on another 15 years, your life expectancy will keep rising every year faster than you’re aging. And then, before the century is even half over, you can be around for the Singularity, that revolutionary transition when humans and/or machines start evolving into immortal beings with ever-improving software.

Dr. Ray Kurzweil makes this predictions using what he calls the Law of Accelerating Returns, a concept he illustrates with a history of his own inventions for the blind. In 1976, when he pioneered a device that could scan books and read them aloud, it was the size of a washing machine.

So hang in there!


Hi Alan,

As to your blog on the‘Colab’ Brooke Alexander exhibition: Give him credit for reminding the public about Colab’s importance / existence.

You seem to imply that all gallery associated activities are an inherent compromise.

Reagan tried to pull the plug on federal funding from the NEA but did not succeed.
FASHION 時 裝 MODA МОДА received annual funding from the NEA. NEA and NYSCA funding took care of the operational budget. I was involved in alerting the public about the NEA cut threats under Reagan. The cuts actually never materialized because of the opposition to it. Much later individual fellowships were discontinued.

‘Colab’ is not like any artists group. Colab artists did not share style and expression identities like the Cubists, Abstract Expressionist or the Minimalists and other movements that are considered ‘Modern Art’. Colab was the first time a group of artists got together where style and expression differences among us were accepted and expected. I don’t remember a discussion on the subject of individual expression choice. It was a given that no rules had to be observed.

FASHION 時 裝 MODA МОДА programming, exhibitions and projects reflected irreverence to this Modernist ‘dogmatic’ tradition. In order to be considered historical important in the early to mid 20th century an artist had to be a member of a movement. Not any longer. What a huge step. Think about Picasso and Braque paintings in a similar style. Or Andy's and Roy's painting correlating and so on.

Doing away with that was very important step. It's
like leaving the church.

The radical openess in the East Village reflected all that too.

As to Joseph's comment, living much, much longer, and dramatically extending life expectancy read:
'Fantastic Voyage' by Ray Kuzweil and Terry Grossman


no style is a style

Colab style was part of the 1980's "no style" movement. By that I mean that making objects that could be plugged into the art market. The content was besides the point. The intention of Fashion MODA was to open in the South Bronx it was a sort of art outpost. The downtown artists mingled with the street kids. The major artist to come out of Fashion MODA was John Ahearn who did life sized plaster casts of street kids. These polychromed reliefs of Latinos were a major feature of Whitney museum Bieniels in the 1980's. So analytically the first part of Fashion Moda, going to the South Bronx was part of a colonial attitude - bring em back alive. The second part was to incorporate this (multi-cultural) product into the art market. The deeper analysis has to do with the funding mechanisms which you brought up. Colab and Fashion MODA existed and continued because they received patronage (funding). Money from the Federal Government has to do with servicing under serviced communities and really doesn't have any aesthetic criteria. There is a lot of room for discussion on this whole subject of groups, funding, and the art market.
The initial impetus to setting up, the thing, artnetweb and rhizome in the 1990's was to extend the idea of a social and collaborative art space/ group into cyberspace. This was an outgrowth of the 1970's alternative space movement. The dynamic always starts as a utopian ideal of striking out into the wilderness to build a new world. In the art world it's always about the banalizing influence of the market. Where one person start selling a certain style of object and many other artists/ dealers look to make/sell similar type objects.
The good part about artists is that we always seek new ways to engage the world. The deeper analytical question or dilemma occurs after the break/ movement away from the conventional. After the new way of seeing/ engaging has been worked out there becomes a need to sustain the endeavor. Artists always seek patronage, ways to fund their efforts. This brings us to the conclusion that in the double 00's of the Bush era that the market defines art and is the only arbiter. If you aren't in the market you don't exist. That's the dilemma of the double 00's if you strike out away from the conventions of the market you may engage the world in a unique manner but you will also lose the the only source of patronage that exists anymore.
Therefor there needs to be a new way for art and artists to be patronized.