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The Times Square Show : A Parlor of Massaging Bedlam


Upcoming exhibition about The Time Square Show at the Hunter College GalleryUpcoming exhibition about The Time Square Show at the Hunter College Gallery

Friday, September 14th 2012
Times Square Show Revisited

Event Description:
The Hunter College Art Galleries are pleased to present Times Square Show Revisited, an in-depth look at the original Times Square Show, scheduled to debut in New York City this Fall from September 14-December 8, 2012. Times Square Show Revisited aims to explore the original exhibition’s exposure of New York’s burgeoning downtown artistic community in June 1980, which also marked the occasion of many developments in the field, including Jean Michel Basquiat’s first appearance in an exhibition as both a painter and graffiti writer SAMO, Nan Goldin’s first major presentation of what was to become her seminal Ballad of Sexual Dependency, Jenny Holzer’s introduction to the possibility of working with LED lights, and the presentation of experimental works by artists including Keith Haring and Kenny Scharf among others.

Times Square Show Revisited will be on view from September 14-December 8, 2012 at the Bertha and Karl Leubsdorf Art Gallery, 68th street and Lexington Avenue, SW corner. A special opening reception will be held on September 13 from 6-8pm. The exhibition will be accompanied by an exhibition catalogue and comprehensive website with extensive interviews with the participants of the exhibition. For more information about the exhibition, please visit

Curated by post-war art historian Shawna Cooper, in association with Karli Wurzelbacher, art historian.


Here is my first draft text for the show's website.
The drawing I showed at The Times Square Show (Remaking the Past 1979) is attached below (not in the show - but on the website):


The Times Square Show : A Parlor of Massaging Bedlam

The miscellaneous cluster of artists that gathered and showed their work at The Times Square Show, it seems to me, shared only one thing in common. We all involved ourselves in issues that ran parallel to, or fed into, epistemological questions of American wealth, sex, class and power. In the thirty-plus years since, American civilization has witnessed numerous paradigmatic shifts. The predictability of the linier equation of class and sex boundaries (in art) that was the norm for us in the early 1980s was found to be insufficient in capturing the relevant behavior of our art impulses and their distribution through the art system.

What I early on detected in The Times Square Show was that art could be expressed in intricate rich ways that were non-linier but, nevertheless, which displayed long-term tendencies and organizational patterns. Specifically, certain spots in the non-linier field of the art system were found to manifest as either attraction or repulsion spots to nearby trajectories. Attractor art stars were soon found to have a stabilizing function in the art system and represented long-term tendencies of market value. But it also was revealed that the same art star attractors could mutate and spontaneously transform or bifurcate.

While the pre-Times Square Show art system isolated physical objects from their surrounding, the attraction of the Times Square site was founded on the realization that the art system is connected to sex and power, subject to flows of money, matter and energy which move constantly through them. The question of the whore may not be denied. Inversely, the dynamic imbalance of The Times Square Show resulted from chaotic energy that manifested a creative process that generated richly organized patterns that teetered on the complex stable and the complex unstable. My experience of Jack Smith’s performance/slide show at The Times Square Show perhaps best exemplifies this trend.

It is neither surprising nor coincidental that a paradigmatic epistemological change in art at large would follow the developments of The Times Square Show. I can even say that culture experienced a bifurcation as a result of Times Square Show style activity, and the artists that participated in The Times Square Show all represented their own particular bifurcation within the cultural field.

In critical studies and in an array of philosophical discourses, chaotic approaches to order and composition have been addressing the rhizomatic-decentralized modes of art activity that I again experienced at The Times Square Show, following my Private Parts squat art show at an abandoned methadone center at 530 Canal Street in December of 1979. It was through Private Parts that I met the Times Square Show group and was invited to participate (albeit rather late). When New York art began a Times Square Show influenced examination of its heterogeneous system, it initiated a true break with modernism and this bifurcation is what I found to be interesting in my participation in The Times Square Show.


This now is the final text for the website based on an interview with the curator Shawna Cooper. Shawna put together bits of my text above with what I told her in the interview.


Joseph Nechvatal

In 1979, I was without a place to live for a period of time. I was staying briefly in Laurie Anderson's loft; but when she came back early from tour, I was caught without any place to live whatsoever. In the building where Laurie lived on Canal Street, there was a recently abandoned methadone clinic, and I just moved in. I had a knapsack and a few pieces of clothing. I made it my home for about five or six months. In that space I did my first exhibition in New York called Private Parts. It was work that doesn't look quite like the drawing from the Times Square Show. The Private Parts work was medical journal illustrations that I painted over, leaving only a few key elements to show through. So with that work I was already investigating the obstruction of the image, its masking, or failing, or the problematization of reading the image. Through my Private Parts show I met some of the early Colab people like Becky Howland, Alan Moore, Tom Otterness and some others. Through these connections I learned about the Times Square Show. I participated in the TSS with this drawing from 1979 Remaking the Past. But perhaps more importantly in the long term, I got involved with Collaborative Projects and specifically ABC No Rio. Gallery opportunities arrived in the mid 80s for me, so I also started to develop my solo career simultaneously.

My work in the Times Square Show was characteristic of what I was developing at that time. In a piece like Remaking the Past, the viewer is confronted with how problematic it is to make out what is going on in the image: it is rather murky and chaotic. This is one of the very earliest drawings that lead to a long series of works through the early to mid 80s that worked on this problem of complicating the logo with visual noise, making noisy the image representation. My process was concerned with saturating the image, and making it more complicated and more difficult than the immediate recognizability that we think of in terms of advertising or propaganda or logo. In Remaking the Past, in particular, it is pretty complicated to see what is going on… There is some architectural imagery in it. There are two figures: they are very ghostly male and female figures. The atmosphere is very dim and difficult to make out. The hardcore noise music scene that was developing at that time also influenced me in this regard. It had a kind of eff-you aesthetic. If you didn't like it, that was fine; that was ok. The work was about not playing the game of expected representation.

Of course the location of Times Square was the main thing of interest. No one had ever thought of going to Times Square for art, and I don't know if you can imagine what it was like at the time. No one would go there except to get sex or drugs or to see peep-shows or X-rated movies. There was literally no other reason you would go to that area. So for me, to mount an art show of young people doing crazy -- but politically motivated -- things in Times Square was a confrontation of the power structure that controlled that space. We artists that gathered and showed our work at the Times Square Show, it seems to me, shared only one thing in common. We all involved ourselves in issues that ran parallel to, or fed into, epistemological questions of American wealth, sex, class and power.

At the Times Square Show, chaotic energy manifested a creative process that generated richly organized patterns that teetered on the complexly stable and the complexly unstable. My experience of Jack Smith's performance/slide show at the Times Square Show perhaps best exemplifies this trend. The first thing I remember about Jack Smith, and his performance at Times Square in particular, is that you never knew when his performances started or ended, so he deconstructed the standard narrative of beginning, middle, and end. There was a kind of rigidity to his speaking -- maybe not rigidity -- but a repetition and a kind of rigor to the rhythm of the slides and the rhythm of his rambling voice. He had a very strange voice. He was very interesting in that way. There was no back stage, no front stage. You didn't know where to stand. You were kind of next to him in the piece and also in the audience at the same time. I had seen other slideshow performances that he had done, but the TSS performance was particularly complicated to know what was the performance and what was not. And I liked that because in that way, the frame dissipated. I really enjoyed that feeling of complexity and chaos coming together. I was striving towards that in the drawing Remaking the Past. So he, and the scene in general, excited me. Afterwards I thought a lot about Jack's performance and how ambiguity can be a benefit, not a detriment, to the work. And it made me want to pursue ambiguity even more. It was all very inspiring.

As told to Shawna Cooper, May 21, 2012

Remaking the Past 1979.JPG4.65 MB
times-square_poster.jpg237 KB

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