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The Triumph of the East Village


Like a lot of other artists in the 80’s I opened a gallery in the east village.  The name of the gallery was Virtual Garrison. The address was 19  2nd Ave. at 1st street.  It was open for 2 years.  Recently I’ve been trying to discuss the East Village scene to some younger dealers.  Indeed, I just remarked to Rob Murphy the other day that during our Springtime walk around of the Chelsea art galleries all the works being exhibited seemed to be a triumph of the East Village style or styles. Rob agreed.  The East Village scene started with Alan Moore staging an anarchist artist occupation of the Essex street market on New Year’s day and having a show called “The real Estate Show.” This was an extension of the Soho raw space look but with the political twist of squatting in abandoned buildings.  The art works were a mishmash of poster style propaganda paintings, punk and neo-surrealism etc. Much of the work was by Colab artist’s fresh from their success at The Times Square show that was held in a former whorehouse on 42nd street.  
    The East Village didn’t have a style per se. It was more of an explosion of artists trying to get their work out. The other part was the market aspect. Many people, myself included realized that presenting and selling art was an unregulated commodities market. It really didn’t matter what the work was or meant on a certain level.  East village style was, neo- everything. A sort of Baudrillard simulation of the larger art world. For my part I was essentially a  “fake” art dealer. It was a performance work. People who launched their careers from the East Village included Jeff Koons and Jenny Holzer as well as the Graffiti artists Crash and Daze, Lady Pink etc. There was a lot of really bad generic surrealism, lots of realistic painting, various stripes of feminist and political art, geometric abstraction and on and on.
    Walking around Chelsea this Spring with Rob we saw the triumph of this non-style, post-modernist anything goes ironic cleaver studied style.  Rob says that this is because many of the East Village artists got teaching jobs. What we’re seeing in the galleries is the East Village point of view done by their students all slicked up and professional.  The rebellion and ironic enthusiasm of the East Village has become the institution.  
    I walked away from my East Village gallery at a certain point. I didn’t have the money to capitalize it. I was working construction to pay for my gallery. I was supporting my wife and step daughter and the artists in the gallery.  I gave ten one person shows and eight of the ten artists got picked up by uptown galleries.  I thought to myself that the game was too rich for my blood. I decided to close that gallery and return to my own art work.  Later on many of the people I knew from my punk performance and East Village days , gravitated to new media.  I did the same and found another avenue of critique and alternative energy in the digital art scene.  
    Recently there’s been a lot of interest in the New York underground scene of early Soho. Artforum has an article on Avalanche magazine than touches on the scene that is loosely 1970-1976. Yes, I was part of that scene as well. When Rob and I did another one of our Chelsea walkarounds we went to the high line art show. The show was in a former meat packing warehouse on Gansvoort Street. I remarked on the way over how it brought back memories of when I was working with Gordon Matta-Clark  cutting up the Gansvoort pier.  The pier is no longer there but it was to the left of the sanitation department pier which still exists.  A film of Gordon hanging from an improvised Bosun’s chair cutting the facade of the pier was being exhibited in the meat packing warehouse High Line Show.  The scene however is quite different now.  DIA will tear down the building and build a brand new museum on the site. The closest thing to the spirit of previous underground movements is what’s happening at Eyebeam. It’s got a bit more energy and pizzaz.  
    This begs the issue; if the East Village Style is triumphant in Chelsea, what is the rebellion and backlash? What’s the dialectical opposite? For my own part I’ve come up with a few answers. Let’s list the prevailing esthetics first than see how to extend the discourse.  Simulation, Irony, Puerile Jokes, Super polished high production values and Neo-Conceptual Art with a lot of photography in ascendancy are standards in Chelsea. Painting is anything you can do insofar as it’s a marketable commodity.  One of the more interesting notions is to challenge the painting marketability notion. How do you create painting that are smart, well done and yet unmarketable? The German painter Michael Krebber comes to mind. Although reading about his work in Artforum and seeing it in a Gallery at Art Basel Miami does seem to beg the issue of marketability.  Maybe a certain type of sincerity on the part of the artist will counteract the ironic pose of the Post Modernist.  The trouble is that being an artist is a serious task. Oftentimes there are people who are totally sincere but lack the depth and serious commitment to be a truly exceptional artist. They walk the walk, talk the talk and live the lifestyle but are still merely bohemians.  So here then are the spheres of discourse; A new process art/ arte povera/ site specific  conceptual art, Anti-commodity painting that is sincere in its efforts and New Media Art that somehow becomes incorporated into the mainstream art discourse instead of being ghettoized.