an OUTLINE of Art Gangs:Protest and Counterculture in New York City, 1969-1985by Alan W. Moorefrom Autonomedia, New York, 2011online at:
What Is A Resume

Art Gangsis a survey of several recent well known artists’ organizations in New York City which rose to prominence between 1969 and 1985, a period of political challenge and institutional change within the art world. In 1969 New York City artists formed the Art Workers Coalition to pressure the Museum of Modern Art for artists' rights and to take a stand against the Vietnam War. Over the next fifteen years, successor organizations continued political action on issues from cultural equity to U.S. foreign policy, and refined the modes of cultural activism. These groups developed new art exhibition spaces, new styles of exhibition, and collective ways of working. Today's diverse and politically conscious contemporary art world is deeply indebted to their example.What follows is a digest of the entire contents of an earlier draft of the book.


A brief introductory context of recession-era New York City moving from a bankrupt municipality to a rapidly gentrifying metropolis; local and national government moving from Democratic to Republican; and artistic practice moving from an open moment of conceptual and performance art to a return to painting and sculpture amidst an artworld economic boom.
This book considers the Art Workers Coalition, Guerrilla Art Action Group, Art & Language, Artists Meeting for Cultural Change, Collaborative Projects, Political Art Documentation/Distribution, and Group Material.
All of these groups are avowedly political. Their arising follows a historical trajectory which I will describe.
I was involved with Collaborative Projects. Others who have written on the history of artists' collectives were involved in groups themselves. The critic Lucy Lippard has written on all of these groups.
Since New York is an art market center, the history of collectives here has been neglected.
Artists' collectivity in the U.S. is a continuous tradition, including art academies, exhibiting societies, studios and colonies all founded by artists.
Artistic economy is not only rooted in the market, it is mixed, like what Richard Barbrook called the “hi-tech gift economy” of the internet.
Artistic production is very often collective.
Artists function within a world of their own, an artworld, a term coined by Howard Becker.
The artworld was theorized as a field of cultural production by Pierre Bourdieu, a field with its own special rules, “the economic world reversed.”
The chapters of the book include histories of the following groups:
The Art Workers Coalition (AWC; 1969-1970) was an activist group, pushing for expanded rights for artists, and increased opportunity for women and artists of color.
The Guerrilla Art Action Group was an “action cell” of the AWC, and produced street theater and communiques in the spirit of Berlin Dada.
As a coalition, the AWC included numerous groups of artists, particularly artists of color and feminists.
In Soho, artists built their own community, opening numerous “alternative spaces” to exhibit their work.
The sculptor Gordon Matta-Clark was associated with the most influential of these, including the huge P.S. 1 in Queens, which was later assimilated to the Museum of Modern Art.
After the end of the Vietnam War, activist artists convened the Artists Meeting for Cultural Change.
The English conceptual art group Art & Language was working in New York and many of them joined the AMCC.
These artists engaged in a close analysis of the artworld system in New York, both commercial and institutional.
The A&L artists produced a radical art journal called The Fox (1975-76).
The AMCC chose to picket the Whitney Museum's Bicentennial exhibition, and produced an anti-catalog criticizing the limited view of American art the show presented.
Collaborative Projects convened in the late 1970s. The group was initially involved with filmmaking, and became identified with the punk rock movement.
Artists affiliated with Colab started the South Bronx art space Fashion Moda, and ABC No Rio on the Lower East Side.
In 1980, Colab produced a huge four-floor exhibition on Times Square which was widely publicized and discussed.
Political artists formed groups in the early 1980s, among them Group Material and Political Art Documentation and Distribution (PADD).
PADD was explicitly a left to socialist artists' networking organization.
They also produced work for the street, inspired by the graffiti movement.
Group Material opened a storefront in the East Village, mounting political theme shows.
PADD members undertook a project called Not For Sale, contesting the gentrification of the Lower East Side neighborhood after a wave of galleries had located.
Group Material continued exhibiting in art institutions, climaxing with an installation at the Whitney Biennial of 1985.
The story of artists’ groups in New York City has not yet been told
It is important to understand it in order to make sense of the broad political directions which contemporary art has taken.

Chapter 1: Taking it Out of the Modern

What was the Art Workers Coalition?
The founding action: Takis publicly withdraws his work from the Museum of Modern Art “The Machine as Seen at the End of the Mechanical Age” exhibition.
First meetings of the AWC.
Drafting the 13 Points.
Black Emergency Cultural Coalition founded a little earlier in protest of the Metropolitan Museum of Art exhibition “Harlem on My Mind: Cultural Capital of Black America, 1900-1968.”
AWC holds Open Hearings at School of Visual Arts.
Artists air their proposals for change at the MoMA, and utopian proposals for artworld change.
Different points of view by participants and historians on the AWC, its history and significance.
Looking at the three layers of cliques within the AWC – upstairs, downstairs, and the street.
AWC seen as generally related to 1968 revolutions in France, Czechoslovokia, Mexico, and specifically to European demonstrations and sit-ins by artists and art students.
1968 in the USA a dark year of assassinations, riots, armed underground revolutionary groups.
Anti-Vietnam War agenda overtakes the AWC, and in 1970 it splits -- one fraction becomes the Art Strike (Against War, Racism and Repression), and the other becomes the Art Workers Community, an art service organization.
Artists who formed the AWC included prominent avant gardists, Destruction artists, conceptual artists, and painters.
Takis was an artist working with technology artist; technology artists, many of whom showed in the Howard Wise Gallery, were active in the AWC at its beginnings.
A number of collectives were active in the technology art movement.
The Art and Technology exhibition in Los Angeles was criticized for collusion with military-industrial complex and the style lost popularity in the artworld.
Technology artists wanted the museum to become a more receptive place for their work, which was not based in traditional art objects.
Alex Gross supported the AWC from the start through his writing in the East Village Other underground newspaper.
He was a technology artist himself, and wrote that mixed media environments had a revolutionary function, both personal and political.
The “Machine” show was poorly displayed, he continued, and MoMA had never exhibited any artists' environments.
The East Village Other was part of the underground press. The newspaper publicized the 1968 demonstrations against the Dada and Surrealism exhibition at MoMA.
AWC was formed after an action. Although it was political, actions per se had standing as performative aesthetic art statements.
The artistic action was related to theater, and adapted to coverage by television, the totalizing emergent medium theorized by Marshall MacLuhan and Guy Debord.
The political demonstration itself was theorized by radical activists as provocation.
Artists were closely involved with the emergence of demonstrations as political “Happenings.”
The connection was especially close with the Provos in Amsterdam.
This group had ties to the Situationist International in Paris.
The writings of the SI were translated and published by the Columbia student activists.
The Black Mask anarchist affinity group of poets and artists from the Lower East Side was involved in the Columbia occupations.
The Bread & Puppet Theatre group was also active on the Lower East Side, from whence the group had sprung.
The San Francisco Mime Troupe evolved a widely influential aesthetic and method of guerrilla theater.
Some of their members formed the Diggers, a direct action group which influenced Abbie Hoffman.
Abbie Hoffman saw himself as an artist.
Hoffman and the Yippies staged many actions.
They were criticized by others on the left for abandoning politics for theater. Hoffman responded with a defense of political art.
Destruction artists staged actions at the MoMA during the Dada and Surrealism show in 1968.
One of these artists, Jon Hendricks, worked at Judson Church with other Destruction artists.
When the AWC formed, Hendricks joined Jean Toche and others to form the Guerrilla Art Action Group (GAAG).
An emigre Belgian artist, Jean Toche made highly political environmental performances.
His work was described in the East Village Other by Lil Picard, a German critic and fellow Destruction artist.
Picard had first hand experience of Berlin Dada and other post World War I German movements. Ex-Dadaist Richard Huelsenbeck, working in New York as a psychoanalyst, also supported Destruction artist Ralph Ortiz.
Poppy Johnson joined GAAG, and describes the influences and intentions of the group.
GAAG had a formal linguistic and stylistic relation to armed revolutionary groups.
Their blustering communiques and aggressive actions led to repressive responses by authorities.
GAAG frequently agitated at the frontiers of legality.
Artists within the AWC were then drafting a reserve rights sales agreement, to try to influence artists' legal rights in the marketplace.
GAAG members and others were charged with desecration of the flag as the outcome of the People's Flag Show at Judson Church.
GAAG took positions supporting the struggle of poor communities.
They protested their representation in a Fluxus-related English publication as distorting their position.
Ralph Ortiz (Rafael Montañez Ortiz), a Destruction art comrade, works with Puerto Rican artists, and their struggle becomes an issue for GAAG.
GAAG staged a removal of Kasimir Malevich's white-on-white Suprematist Composition from the wall at MoMA to dramatize political demands.
The group also protested the war in an action held in front of Picasso's
Guernica (1937; then in the MoMA). They and others in the AWC held up the poster “And babies..” produced jointly by the AWC and the MoMA.
The poster showed a news photograph of corpses massacred by American soldiers in Vietnam.
Despite support from the staff, the MoMA trustees had ordered the museum to remove their name from the project.
The controversy with the museum exemplified the collapse of the postwar bargain, as described by Francis Frascina, that older artists and critics had made with the museums, that they would not use the arts for political purposes. In return, the powers that be behind the museum would shield the artworld from rightwing political investigations.
GAAG involved themselves in a later graffiti attack on Guernica, sending a threatening communique which resulted in the arrest of Jean Toche.
Museum officials were frightened by GAAG. GAAG insisted that they were pacifists, and asserted their identity as an art group.
Their rhetoric and protest work evoked the shadow of iconoclasm. Voices on the left had advocated destruction of art that perpetuated bourgeois values.
GAAG described their work as conceptual art. GAAG is considered as conceptual art during a period when this mode of working was being exhibited and defined.
The question of the political nature of conceptual art.
The relation of GAAG to the underground press and media, exhibited at the Museum space where AWC held its meetings.
Utility of conceptual art is at issue in considering GAAG's place within the history of the style.
Indeed, foregrounding the “use value of art” as versus its “exchange value” or value as commodity, was a key aspect of this way of working.
Lucy Lippard discusses the refusal of some important artists to participate in the AWC. Individual artists' relation to the group are considered.
Lee Lozano did a work of withdrawal from the artworld, including the AWC. She announced this work at the Open Hearing.
Carl Andre tied his work to the political positions maintained by the AWC.
Robert Morris led the Art Strike which absorbed the AWC.
Hans Haacke turned from exploring natural to social and political systems in his work. In 1971 his Guggenheim retrospective was cancelled because a work distressed a trustee by showing him as a slumlord.
Ex-AWC members demonstrated inside the museum to support Haacke.
Haacke's work exemplifies systems art, theorized by Jack Burnham.
Lucy Lippard's central role in defining AWC, and Lippard's subsequent work with feminist art groups.
Alex Gross's story of the emergence of the Art Workers Community as an arts service group.
Critic Hilton Kramer attacked the politics of the AWC, and is rebutted by AWC members.
Historian Irving Sandler also disdained political art, and considered the AWC demands unrealistic.
Sandler maintains that a wall of separation existed during the 1960s between politics and art.
For Sandler, the artists' protests against the Vietnam War and the establishment of Conceptual art signalled the end of the 1960s.
Conclusion: Art Workers Coalition set the course for change in the New York artworld for the rest of the century.

Chapter 2: Soho Spring

New spaces for exhibition arise in the artists' community of Soho called “alternative spaces.”
They are like the cooperative galleries of earlier years, but serve the interests of many more artists who move to NYC.
They are supported by state and federal grant monies.
Robert Pincus-Witten calls the art of this place and time “post-minimalism.”
Many alternative spaces question the traditional modernist exhibition space described by Brian O'Doherty as the “white cube.”
O'Doherty ran the Visual Arts program at the National Endowment for the Arts.
Billy Apple discusses his alternative space called Apple; it was conceived in opposition to the artists' cooperative.
Spaces like 55 Mercer Street, A.I.R., and Anonima were not alternative spaces, according to his definition.
Jacki Apple's 1981 exhibition at the New Museum codified the Soho alternative space (list of spaces included).
Brief description of Soho neighborhood; built of mid-19th century cast iron buildings, a derelict district of light industrial lofts by the 1960s. Artists moved into these, and they in turn were displaced by the rich.
Groups of artists formed around each of the Soho alternative spaces.
The scene at the Apple art space is described, and the atmosphere at 98 Greene Street.
Holly and Horace Solomon back 98 Greene Street, then open their own gallery.
Independent art spaces as part of a counterculture.
They were not political, however. A divide in political and artistic practice was a part of the ideology of formalism.
Artists described themselves as esthetic, not political revolutionaries.
The space at 112 Greene Street was a model for a grant category of the federal arts agency NEA.
Brian O'Doherty was the head of the NEA Visual Arts department, also a practicing artist.
112 Greene Street was “idealistic, self-generating, non-restrictive” in its operation. Federal and state funding regularized them, and “killed the spirit,” said one artist.
Gordon Matta-Clark lived in the basement of 112 Greene Street for a time, and worked there continuously.
His work grew directly out of the social environment of the Soho neighborhood.
His work “Open House Dumpster” signified this by creating a labyrinth inside a metal rubbish container.
The dumpster had many connotations in a neighborhood where old factories were regularly being emptied out.
Matta-Clark renovated the Food “restaurant commune” run by his partner Carol Goodden. There he made his first architectural cut outs.
Matta-Clark's “wall sandwich” was taken out of a cafe that had served Spanish-speaking laborers.
The restaurant Food was popular, and a significant early instance of a farm-to-table connection. It provided artists a way to make a living, to meet each other, and to do performances with food.
Fluxus artists made work around food and meals. Conceptual artist Les Levine also ran a restaurant briefly. Daniel Spoerri had a restaurant in Dusseldorf. The artist Miralda opened a restaurant in Tribeca in 1985 with a food-based performance.
Matta-Clark organized a group of artists called Anarchitecture. They investigated architecture as an environment for the physical body and its movements.
Anarchitecture exhibited as a collective at 112 Greene Street and did some pages in the magazine Flash Art.
Most of Matta-Clark's large scale works of cut architecture were done in Europe with a crew of artists he brought from Soho. Artists in Soho often made a living in light construction and identified with manual laborers. The working crew was an important male social element in the district.
Matta-Clark appropriated images of urban graffiti painting in his work. He had kids in the Bronx spray paint his truck, and then cut it up and sold the pieces during the Washington Square Art Fair.
The graffiti writers were organized into crews. Their work was celebrated in some early exhibitions in Soho, and written about in New York magazines.
Matta-Clark said he worked with the “urban fabric.”
He was criticized as a “macho-individualist” by feminist critic Maud Lavin. He romanticized collectivity, and required it as social fabric to do his work.
Matta-Clark's work directly engaged issues of property. This was a central concern of artists in Soho, who had struggled to save the neighborhood from destruction by urban renewal.
George Maciunas of the Fluxus movement had started cooperative houses in the 1960s so artists could afford to own their spaces.
Real estate concerns were crucial to Soho artists. Sociologist Sharon Zukin writes that the glamorization of loft living by artists was the principle creative product of the Soho artists' district.
Vacant and disused architecture was a raw material in Soho and in many parts of New York City during these years.
Alanna Heiss started the Institute for Art and Urban Resources to obtain vacant spaces for use by artists. She organized a show with Matta-Clark in 1971 under the Brooklyn Bridge.
In 1976 she acquired a large vacant public school in Queens, and opened a show there of site-specific work by dozens of artists called “Spaces.”
Artists Space was a gallery opened by the New York State Council on the Arts. Initially, the principle of the place was that artists would choose other artists to show.

Chapter 3: Revising American Art

Artists Meeting for Cultural Change convenes in 1976.
Art & Language, an English conceptual art group, a number of whose members lived in NYC, dominates the AMCC.
A&L produce critical texts about art and the artworld system.
A number of journals spring up that reflect the intensive atmosphere of discussion within these groups.
Talk itself as a form of art was foregrounded by Joseph Beuys' American tour in 1974. He discussed his ideas of direct democracy and social sculpture, and the relation of politics and art.
Pedagogical activity within art, humanities and history, was animated by a spirit of revision as the achievements of women and people of color were reexamined.
The AMCC and Art & Language groups were meeting places for people engaged in critical reflection on artistic practice.
The AMCC began as an attempt to revive the anti-war movement. Many of the people who started it were involved in the Art Workers Coalition.
The broad aim of the AMCC was, said Rudolf Baranik, “to analyze the artist's role in society.”
The AMCC met at first in the loft of Baranik and May Stevens, and then moved to the Soho public gallery Artists Space.
The meetings were a mix of artists on the left.
The Art & Language group used logic, analytic philosophy, and Marxist political economy in its work. They exhibited their writings as conceptual art in the international Documenta show in Germany in 1972.
During the early 1970s, conceptual art acquired definition as a style.
The magazine and the artists book were thought of as a kind of alternative space for artists to disseminate their work. (This was especially true for artists living under repressive regimes.)
The New York Cultural Center, built as a private museum, hosted two shows of English conceptual art featuring A&L.
In New York, the group critiqued the magazine Artforum.
A&L used the editorial process to build a community. Their group reached 20 to 30 members.
Some members of A&L were not happy with this popularity, and disdained those who came to their meetings.
Feminist artists and critics were also meeting and generating collective texts.
//The Fox// journal published by New York A&L was cheaply printed. In this it emulated the Soho journal Art-Rite.
The magazine was planned by Joseph Kosuth and his partner, Sarah Charlesworth. Then intended to investigate economic and social bases for art world isolation.
Discussion in both The Fox and the Art-Language journal revolved around the role of the artist in society.
The English journal Art-Language was not kind to The Fox.
A&L members often indulged in ad hominem attacks on those with whom they differed, which they understood as “bearing necessary historical detail” in the form of “biographical particles.”
Joseph Kosuth was singled out because of his artistic eminence and financial success.
This bitchy discourse made The Fox more fun to read. The writing was pungent with no holds barred.
A&L was part of a wave of British academic influence, including John Berger with his “Ways of Seeing” TV show and book, T.J. Clark and Griselda Pollock.
The last issue of The Fox included the transcript of an extended “struggle session” in which A&L members aired their differences.
Two other groups formed when New York A&L dissolved.
One of them, the Provisional Art & Language, split the Artists Meeting for Cultural Change by insisting that the group vote its “principles of unity” calling for solely collaborative work.
The Provo A&L magazine, Red-Herring, was strongly socialist in tone. An article criticized the funding agency, and they lost their grant.
These various disagreements reflected the difference between liberals and radicals in the New York artworld.
They joined forces in a short-lived alliance within the AMCC.
Both the AMCC and New York A&L worked with groups of radical artists, like the Madame Binh Graphics Collective and the Anti-Imperialist Cultural Union, affiliated with Newark-based poet Amiri Baraka.
These more radical groups were uncomfortable within the artworld.
AMCC reflected its roots in the Art Workers Coalition when they decided to target the Whitney Museum during the Bicentennial year of 1976.
The Whitney Museum was showing the Rockefeller collection of American art. The deep involvements of the Rockefellers with U.S. policy during the Cold War included the use of artists and writers as part of propaganda offensives. These facts were revealed by political mural artist Eva Cockcroft in an important 1974 article.
Hans Haacke criticized the Rockefellers for insisting that art express no political opinions.
The Black Emergency Cultural Coalition (BECC) had picketed the Whitney Museum in 1971.
The 1976 AMCC picket marked a key social and intellectual convergence of white leftists and artists of color.
The protest scored the lack of women and minority artists in the exhibition.
The exhibition was criticized by mainstream art historians as well: Alfred Frankenstein wrote that it could have as easily been shown in the Centennial of 1876!
A group within the AMCC took the catalogue by E.P. Richardson as the point of departure for a thorough-going critique they published as an anti-catalog.
The anti-catalog included essays on the omission of Native Americans, Blacks and women artists from the exhibition.
Alan Wallach, who worked on the book, wrote later that the anti-catalog was “a product of collective work” and non-hierarchical editing and design.
The analysis centered race, class, gender and ethnicity, anticipating much of recent cultural studies and art history.
The book took a radical stance from the start with the slogan, “The political control of culture is a class problem.”
The positions taken in anti-catalog were too extreme for many in the artworld, again a symptom of the liberal-radical split.
This work marks an aesthetic realignment in the New York artworld.
It was a polemic for a revisionist American art history during a revolutionary anniversary. The axiom that cultural institutions are inherently ideological was firmly established.

Chapter 4: Punk Art

Younger artists in New York, influenced by the discourse and activities of artists on the left, formed groups in the later 1970s.
Rather than ideology, these artists tended to follow collective modes of practice in music, performance and media arts.
Their groups had dynamic relations with subculture and entertainment.
Collaborative Projects (Colab) was one of the most successful of these groups.
Colab met regularly in open sessions attended by about 40 artists.
They produced exhibitions, film screenings, TV shows, and print projects, funded by state and federal grants.
They found an audience in an artworld tired of rhetoric over art and politics, and creative stasis caused by a weak art market and the institutionalization of formerly artist-run spaces.
Colab’s members found inspiration in fringe popular culture, and they pursued individual career objectives both outside and inside the group.
The successful members of the group made work in more traditional media.
The author met artists who would become part of Colab in 1975.
The performance artist and painter Robin Winters was important in forming the group.
Switching between roles of revolutionary, criminal and blue-collar worker, Winters' performance work exemplified issues of artistic identity.
Winters held small dinners at his house as part of his performance work, intending to form “cells” for larger meetings.
Winters was self-taught as an artist, but studied in 1972-73 at the Whitney Independent Study Project in New York, as did many other Colab artists.
In an interview with David Ross, Winters scores “bourgeois Marxists” who take the energy out of political movements.
He says that personal art and identity are needed for the common good.
This position refutes the Provisional Art & Language insistence on collectivized artistic production, the issue that split both Art & Language New York and the Artists Meeting for Cultural Change.
Winters claimed to be an “emotional politician,” and he exercised charismatic authority within Colab meetings.
This strategy was but one of many used within Colab, a group concerned not with cultural change but with cultural production.
Colab between 1977 and 1979 was dominated by artists making films.
Many New York artists making film at the time were working in the mode of structuralist film.
Critic Annette Michelson upheld this position as an editor of October, the magazine formed in 1976 after a conflict with Artforum.
Cheap Super-8 movie cameras brought filmmaking within the reach of many artists.
A network of media arts centers in New York provided access to cameras, editing suites, and studios.
Public access cable television provided another outlet for new work.
Artists within Colab produced documentary films, narrative fiction films, and critical comment on film.
The All Color News was a documentary television news feature project.
Artists involved with the project who continued to work in film included Charlie Ahearn and Scott and Beth B.
The Bs expanded their documentary about the FALN bombing and New York City police response into a serial fiction film called The Offenders which they screened in nightclubs.
Charlie Ahearn produced a documentary about a homeless murder victim.
He went on to produce two fiction features based on ghetto counter-culture, The Deadly Art of Survival on karate (1979), and the cult classic Wild Style (1982) on the graffiti and hip-hop culture of the Bronx.
Charlie’s twin brother John Ahearn's makeup studies for an unfilmed version of Jean Genet's The Maids led him to sculpture casting.
Avalanche co-editor Liza Bear worked with Colab artists in 1978 to produce world wide “slow-scan” video transmissions.
This complex project in “telephonic art” directly anticipated digital art projects of the future.
Bear and Willoughby Sharp produced the final issue of Avalanche in 1976, featuring artists who would soon form Colab.
Artists interested in making fiction movies joined Colab.
Eric Mitchell, a French actor who had worked with independent filmmaker Amos Poe, started the New Cinema in 1979 with money voted from Colab.
Mitchell's film Kidnapped featured Mudd Club nightclub owner Steve Mass as a terrorist kidnap gang's victim.
James Nares, a sculptor, produced Rome '78, a costume epic starring David McDermott as Caligula.
Most of the New Cinema filmmakers were foreign nationals.
Vivienne Dick made a number of influential short films featuring punks with strong feminist themes.
Mitchell's ambition was to succeed in commercial filmmaking.
The interest artists showed in narrative filmmaking led them into the New York rock and fashion scene.
Punk rock, arising in New York and England, was popular in NYC nightclubs.
Diego Cortez and Anya Phillips were very active in the punk scene, and involved in starting the well known nightclub Mudd Club in Tribeca.
The Mudd Club was an important arena for artists developing work in relation to music and nightclub performance.
Colab produced a collaboratively edited magazine called X Motion Picture Magazine.
Issues of the magazine were highly eclectic. The last one focussed on the terrorist groups then active in Germany and Italy.
German artists like Joseph Beuys and Alexander Kluge responded to these groups.
Diego Cortez described his work as “eso-terrorism,” and referenced the German RAF and Puerto Rican FALN.
Robin Winters and Coleen Fitzgibbon worked together anonymously as X and Y, producing films and performance works.
All of this work courted the identification of Colab as a group of artists infatuated with terrorists and criminals.
All of the New Cinema filmmakers eventually left the Colab group.
Winters and Fitzgibbon began to organize exhibitions in their studios.
The first of these was the Batman Show at Winters' studio, organized by Cortez.
The theme referenced Pop art, and had a queer subtext.
Numerous other exhibitions were held; best-remembered is probably the Manifesto Show, organized by Fitzgibbon and Jenny Holzer.
These shows were intended to “create a collective atmosphere of artists producing and showing work together.”
They were organized, rather than curated, and hung salon style from floor to ceiling in tight arrangements.
The shows built the group's reputation as an underground group of punk artists.
Colab identity was unclear. Throughout its life, the group was marked by a tension between “collective cohesion and individual atomization.”
As arguments intensified, Diego Cortez quit the group.
Cortez by then was deeply involved in the punk music scene, and felt that many in Colab were merely poseurs.
Not long after, Winters and Fitzgibbon withdrew, joining another short-lived group described as a “consulting team” – the Offices of Fend, Fitzgibbon, Holzer, Nadin and Winters.
Among the artists who remained, a number had met in Stefan Eins' studio gallery, the 3 Mercer Store.
Eins held regular exhibitions in this Soho storefront in the 1970s.
In 1979 he started another space in the South Bronx, called Fashion Moda, with Joe Lewis.
The South Bronx was a national symbol of urban decay.
Among the downtown Manhattan artists who showed there was John Ahearn, who made plaster casts of people on the street.
He worked with Rigoberto Torres, whose uncle owned a factory making statues for botanicas, shops catering to devotees of the eclectic Santeria religion.
Eins saw Fashion Moda as a museum, not only a gallery, and took a fluid approach to programming.
Fashion Moda was founded at the same moment as the hip-hop culture of music, dance and graffiti art was coming together.
Eins' friend the critic Edit DeAk produced an important evening of rap artists at the Kitchen, a downtown performance venue, bringing the ghetto music of the South Bronx to a downtown Manhattan art audience.
At the turn of the decade, a group of artists affiliated with Colab occupied a building on the Lower East Side for the Real Estate Show.
Although the show was quickly removed, the city government gave the artists another storefront nearby to work in, and ABC No Rio was founded.
The space became a kind of house gallery for Colab, albeit more explicitly political in its programs.
John Ahearn and Tom Otterness, both of whom had worked at Fashion Moda and ABC No Rio, organized the Times Square Show on 42nd Street in the summer of 1980.
The district was a site of often illicit popular entertainment, cheap movie houses and massage parlors.
The Times Square Show included nearly 100 artists, and generated a great deal of publicity.
This was the apogee of Colab's influence in the New York artworld.
Critic Kim Levin remarked on the density of the show; to her it seemed like a “collective statement.”
She saw the art as grim realism, as “postmodern salvage art.”
Richard Goldstein put the show on the front cover of the Village Voice as “the first radical art show of the '80s.”
He called it “Visual Punk,” “three chord art anyone can play.”
The politicized critic Lucy Lippard criticized the violent content of much of the art in Artforum, seeing it as anti-feminist and as identification with, and “colonizing” of the denizens of Times Square.
She also saw the exhibition in a historical lineage of unruly artistic behavior.
Goldstein and Lippard differed on the degree to which the show exhibited artists of color and working class artists.
A strong installation on the theme of rape by Jane Sherry and Aline Mare reflected artists involvement in a local bar called Tin Pan Alley run by anti-pornography activist Maggie O'Connell.
The show included a gift shop, an attempt by the artists to sell their multiple work directly.
Jeffrey Deitch wrote that the Times Square Show signalled a “major Pop revival,” that the “racial interchange” was a breakthrough, and that the show represented a “challenge to dealers and curators.”
Joe Lewis and Stefan Eins both maintain that the show was inspired by the work artists were doing at Fashion Moda.
Fashion Moda exhibited at the New Museum on 14th Street with Taller Boricua in a show in which Colab was intended to participate. Reasons for the failure of Colab to show are contested.
After the Times Square Show, the principal organizers, John Ahearn and Tom Otterness, left the group to take up gallery careers.
Early next year, former Colab member Diego Cortez curated the well-received New York/New Wave exhibition at P.S. 1, which launched more artistic careers.
While Colab continued to produce exhibitions, video and film projects and publications, the group never again achieved such a significant level of success.

Chapter 5: Political Postmodernism

The Times Square Show began a period of populism in the artworld, with a return to traditional media like painting.
Many small art galleries were opened in the East Village, many run by artists.
Artists on the left, including the group Political Art Documentation and Distribution (PADD) and Group Material, worked to foreground a critical point of view as the presidency of Ronald Reagan began.
PADD worked to define the mode of activist art and to provide a support system for it, while Group Material worked more closely with art institutions.
Some of the members of Group Material had met in Joseph Kosuth's class at the School of Visual Arts.
They opened a storefront gallery in the East Village for one year.
There they developed exhibition-making as a medium of art, building on Colab's salon style.
They also devised new modes of public exhibition and held roundtable discussions on the themes they had chosen.
Group Material was closely involved with left political theory, both English Marxist and French post-structuralist.
PADD was founded in order to build an archive of political art.
The group forged links to labor unions, and others in the international socialist movement.
The PADD archive was finally acquired by the Museum of Modern Art.
Both Group Material and PADD were inspired by the success of ABC No Rio, Colab and Fashion Moda.
Richard Goldstein, writing in the Village Voice, linked ABC No Rio and Group Material as “anti-spaces.”
Goldstein saw the artists of Group Material as better equipped than those of Colab to control the terms of their success through their use of ideology informed by theory.
Group Material announced their intention to “question the entire culture.” They were more attuned to gender issues than Colab, as two members were openly gay.
They identified themselves as wage workers as well as artists; consequently the gallery was open only in the evenings.
With this Group Material entered nightclub time, animated then by Club 57 in the East Village and the Mudd Club in Tribeca.
Walter Robinson claimed the invention of the “milieu show” for Colab.
Group Material exhibitions, while hung salon style (floor to ceiling), were carefully designed in accordance with principles of Marxist dialectical rhetoric.
Greg Sholette called the difference between the two groups' shows an argument between “coherence vs. inclusivity.”
The continuous reiteration of theme show exhibitions at the Colab-related space ABC No Rio popularized the concept of the open group show, and many commercial galleries picked up on the mode.
Group Material considered their theme shows to be research investigations.
Their gallery installations were arrays of “contradictory visual objects” intended to produce a “potentially discursive situation,” stimulating dialogue around issues.
They considered a show called The People's Choice/Arroz con Mango to be their most successful.
The artists worked with their neighbors on East 13th Street to display objects their neighbors considered important.
The “direct and energetic social meaning” and radical mix of objects in the show became key aspects of the Group Material aesthetic.
Thomas Lawson, in a review of the show, predicted that the group would face a choice between aesthetics and politics; that didn’t happen.
Valerie Smith wrote that this was less a choice than “an integral tension that vitalizes the work” of the group.
In 1981 the group left their 13th Street gallery and shrank in size.
They moved to an office on 26th Street, declaring their intention to work in a “wall-less expanse” to bring their work closer to the public.
Earlier that year, the group PADD issued its first newsletter.
They had grown out of meetings at the artists' bookstore Printed Matter in Tribeca.
They moved into El Bohio, a building on the Lower East Side run by the Puerto Rican political group CHARAS.
PADD began with the intention of building an archive of political art; they expanded their mission to include networking exhibition spaces for activist art.
They worked with other groups, like the Cityarts Workshop of mural painters and the Gallery 345 of political art in the War Resisters League building.
Lucy Lippard and Jerry Kearns wrote of the group's initial aims in their newsletter, Upfront.
Reflecting on the group in 1998, Gregory Sholette described PADD's mission as building a bridge between artists and the organized left.
Sholette saw the ideology of PADD as built upon the group who had produced the New York Art & Language spin-off publication Red-Herring.
Lippard and Kearns proposed in the PADD journal to define “activist art.”
This was art that is primarily engaged in communication and reconstruction rather than making art commodities.
In 1984, writing of Suzanne Lacy and Jerry Kearns, Lippard described activist art as taking place in part in the outside world, and including some political work such as education or organizing.
PADD produced a series of sidewalk projections called Death and Taxes, working with Gallery 345.
Tim Rollins of Group Material organized a show at Gallery 345 around the history and future of political demonstrations.
A conference organized by PADD in early 1982 brought together all of the groups discussed in this and the last chapter. Members participated in each others' shows and migrated between groups.
The conference envisioned a coalition which coalesced in 1984 for the Artists Call Against U.S. Intervention in Central America, a broadscale cultural action opposing President Reagan's support for militarized repression of popular movements there.
This Artists Call came together after artists exiled from El Salvador and Chile visited a PADD event.
Group Material organized an exhibition !Luchar! [Struggle], an Exhibition for the People of Central America, which called for art dealing with U.S. policy towards those peoples’ movements.
Many artists were worried to put work into such a straightforwardly political exhibition.
Group Material included also non-art materials, like banners and kerchief masks of Salvadoran resistance groups.
The Salvadoran exiles organized a steering group, and planning began for the large event.
Artists from the groups previously discussed in the book -- GAAG, Colab, and Fashion Moda -- participated closely.
It was an important step in the “remobilization of the artists community,” joining the anti-nuclear and anti-apartheid movements in putting pressure on the Reagan administration.
As their part of a national mobilization, an estimated 1,000 artists participated in Artists Call with work at 31 galleries in New York.
The national alliance of North and South American artists raised the visibility of Latin American artists in New York.
It was a milestone in the advent of a multi-cultural artworld.
The Artists Call group sponsored workshops on street art, and the history of activist art.
Street art as a practice was refined by PADD and Group Material in different ways.
PADD concentrated on making distinctive work for political demonstrations, and many artists did stencil and graffiti work in the streets.
Group Material posted carefully designed bright-colored billboard-like posters in Union Square with texts from service agencies and people on the street discussing a wide range of social issues.
The show was an important point in the development of Group Material's public art.
The Subculture show was an exhibition of signs for the subway in which artists made cards to place amidst the advertising there.
Both PADD and Group Material worked within a milieu of street art in New York.
Graffiti artists decorated subways, and many artists and musicians put their posters in the street.
In his 1985 book Street Art, Allan Schwartzman analyzed the work of New York artists inspired by the graffiti movement, but did not discuss political art.
Graffiti had a mixed reception among artists on the left, with some seeing it as an assertion of self against oppression, and others criticizing the writers for selling their work in galleries.
Tim Rollins initially supported graffiti art, but years later turned against it.
In the mid-1980s, the East Village gallery scene arose, most of it the product of artists' “do it yourself” marketing.
Doug Ashford of Group Material disparaged the social issue work shown in those galleries.
He worried that the forms evolved by political art would be appropriated by the art market.
The East Village galleries, unlike Group Material's 1980 storefront, were commercial.
Scholar Liza Kirwin understands the East Village of the 1980s as an avant-garde unresistant to the marketplace, and as in fact a gallery movement.
The Fun Gallery began the movement in 1981, showing Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring and Kenny Scharf.
The gallery was close to the hip-hop scene of graffiti art and rap music.
Gracie Mansion started her gallery in the tiny bathroom of an East Village apartment.
In 1983, PADD organized the Not for Sale exhibition against gentrification on the Lower East Side.
The show was held at El Bohio, a former school run by the Puerto Rican activist group CHARAS, which had been the site of the building-wide exhibition called the Ninth Street Survival Show in 1980.
Anton Van Dalen's mural of cockroaches converging on the neighborhood warned of the arrival of speculators in real estate.
Carlo McCormick, principal spokesperson for the East Village art scene, insisted “gentrification isn't the issue it's the reality.” A riposte letter by PADD members criticized his “resignation.”
The next year, PADD produced another Not for Sale exhibition, this time directed squarely at artists and galleries for participating in the process of gentrification.
Streetcorner buildings were plastered with posters designed by many artists, and named after pretend galleries.
Some of these posters were used in a critique of East Village art by Craig Owens in Art in America.
This article ran as a pendant to Walter Robinson and Carlo McCormick's major feature article on East Village art.
The political art produced in the East Village was omitted from contemporary institutional exhibitions of East Village art, and from more recent exhibitions as well.
The Not For Sale subcommittee of PADD researched squatting worldwide.
Seth Tobocman of PADD and other artists formed a collective in 1979 to publish a comic book entitled World War III Illustrated.
The 1984 “Captive City” issue dealt with gentrification and drug dealing in the Lower East Side.
Tobocman and the artists of World War III went on to produce graphics in support of the resistance and squatting movement.
In the later 1980s the East Village movement collapsed with the sagging art market, and the viable galleries decamped to Soho.
After their earlier streetworks, Group Material chose to exhibit in art institutions.
They engaged theoretical debates with exhibitions organized around the ideas of cultural critics Raymond Williams and Jean Baudrillard.
In 1984 the group mounted a Central American Timeline at P.S. 1 in Queens, growing out of the work of Artists Call.
In 1985 they were included in the Whitney Biennial with an installation called Americana.
This dense hyper-stimulating exhibition mixed consumer goods and artworks, video and music, defining an American identity through relationships with consumer goods. It featured a brand new washer and dryer.
The exhibition included work by LeRoy Neiman, a successful painter who had long been excluded from major art museums.
This was part of what Group Material member Tim Rollins called “a dialogue between polarities.”
Critics compared the experience of the installation to viewing a film.
Group Material’s Americana installation was criticized for “doing the Whitney’s laundry,” that is, providing the critical element in a biennial that was a festival of art as commodity.
The group resisted the label of political artists, since they felt that the identification meant the “kiss of death” in the artworld.
Instead their curation linked their project with the work of the appropriation artists who had emerged as the leading school from the East Village movement.
Lucy Lippard distinguished between the post-modern strategies of representation and appropriation employed by “Group Material and Friends,” and the more activist artists in the group PADD.
Just as the Times Square Show had posed a challenge to art dealers, answered in large measure by the rise of the East Village gallery movement, so Group Material’s work posed a challenge to museum curators.
William Olander of the New Museum took it up, describing a postmodern “social aesthetics” wherein art contested the dominant culture.
Group Material went on to produce installations that reflected the centrality of a “radical realist” postmodernism within the emergent genre of installation art in international museums.
Group Material and PADD were closely linked, although their paths diverged.
Group Material moved increasingly into the mainstream institutional artworld.
PADD was a more traditional left organization, and closer to the largely unhistoricized movement for community art.

Chapter 6: Aftermath: The Ball Gets Rolling

In 1984, Ronald Reagan was re-elected and artists’ groups proliferated.
The groups discussed in this book constitute a lineage for the new ones.
The new social movement which arose in response to the AIDS pandemic drove much of the new collectivism.
Artists began to die in the early 1980s, early among them Colab members. The ACT-UP group formed in 1987.
Activist artists in this movement innovated the techniques of tactical media.
The movement staged dramatic demonstrations, and intervened in television broadcasts.
These artists’ groups, among them Gran Fury, used commercial techniques to make striking posters and video.
Group Material produced an AIDS Timeline in 1989.
Right wing politicians attacked artists and arts organizations in the late 1980s and early 1990s, uniting the NYC cultural community.
Group Material became prominent in international exhibitions, and PADD developed a nationwide network for political art.
PADD worked with other nationwide organizations serving artists organizations and artists who worked with communities.
The nationwide network of artists spaces helped build a multicultural artworld in the United States.
In 1989 the group RepoHistory spun off from PADD as a radical public art collective.
The 1992 quincentennial of Columbus’ voyage to America was a focal point for cultural organizing to mark the legacy of conquest and enslavement.
Post-colonial cultural theory thrived, much of it inspired by the English Birmingham School.
Newly emergent global markets for art changed the gallery landscape; African American painter Jean-Michel Basquiat, who first exhibited with Colab, became an international superstar even before his death in 1988.
Women artists continued to agitate for more equal opportunity.
In 1985, posters by the anonymous Guerrilla Girls group appeared on the streets. Members gave interviews dressed in gorilla masks.
In the 21st century, feminist art has been recognized as a mainstream movement, with numerous catalogues and books. Most of these recognize the central role of artists’ groups within the feminist art movement.
With the rise of the AIDS movement, lesbians and “queer” artists became more prominent, often in collective formations.
The internet opened a new range of possibilities for art, and groups formed to tackle the challenges of the new media.
Wolfgang Staehle, a former Colab member formed The Thing, a pioneer internet service provider which accommodated artists and museums with websites on the internet.
Among the groups that formed to do work on the internet were many committed to political activism.
Significant changes occurred in the conditions of artistic production.
The ethos of computer programmers was proprietary – they believed the internet was theirs, and that it should be free and uncommodified.
Many free programs were devised by those who were often disparaged as “hackers,” including an “open source” operating system called Linux.
With the fall of the Soviet bloc, global capitalism entered an era of triumph. Resistance movements quickly formed in response.
This political “movement of movements” networked on the internet, and in 1998 in Seattle a spectacular protest against the WTO brought it into worldwide prominence.
Artists played a key role in representing the global anti-corporate movement, and participated in making props and costumes for demonstrations.
The Critical Art Ensemble produced important texts on collective action and tactical media.
Very recently, Steve Kurtz of CAE was arrested on bio-terrorism charges growing out of the group’s work in “contestational biology.”

To sum up, 1968 marked a beginning of a period of challenge to art institutions.
The Art Workers Coalition was a united front, but did not long cohere.
The Guerrilla Art Action Group was an instance of anti-art, a project inspired by political Dada, styled like conceptual art.
Recent exhibitions and publications have made it clear that GAAG was part of a worldwide network of politically oriented conceptual art projects.
Among these was the Tucumán Arde (Tucumán Burns) project done by the Rosario Group in Argentina which inspired Lucy Lippard towards a more politicized position.
Instrumental cultural work in Argentina continues along these lines, seeking to “produce social memory” of past murders and abuses by the military.
In discussing this work, critic Stephen Wright theorizes the use value of aesthetic activity.
Brian Holmes writes of close engagements of art and politics, disseminating his texts on the internet.
Recent histories of New York Art & Language have helped to clarify the group’s critique of U.S. art institutions, carried out with the Artists Meeting for Cultural Change.
This close analytical work needs to be seen as an important root of the art of institutional critique carried out by artists beginning in the 1990s.
Colab succeeded AMCC as a producing and exhibiting group, taking advantage of government funding to do projects instead of maintaining a space.
Colab and groups like it existed to expand provision for artists.
In this they worked alongside innovative New York institutions like P.S. 1 and the New Museum.
These artists’ critique was not aesthetic or academic, but in the words of critic Gerald Raunig, “instituent” – involved in “a permanent process of instituting.”
Colab artists produced art and film, guided by collective ideas and methods.
The influence of the group did not last long beyond its successful Times Square Show.
Spinoff groups from Colab were more cohesive, and more friendly to the art market than the democratic Colab.
The issue of authorship was contested and disturbed within the market by collaborative groups, creating variations in the branded commodity of the singular artist.
Complications of authorship were undertaken in the 1990s by the art dealer Colin De Land.
A number of artists in his gallery, American Fine Arts, worked collaboratively.
The Bernadette Corporation continues this tradition.
Colab emulated the rock ‘n’ roll band as a popular mode of collectivity.
Fluxus artists adapted styles of musical performance from the classical world.
Andy Warhol’s Factory project included the Velvet Underground as a “house band.”
New York artists regularly undertook musical careers, like Kembra Pfahler, who began at ABC No Rio as part of the Extremist Show.
In other cities the rock band as collective model is even more significant.
Colab’s example was packaged for artworld consumption by ex-member Diego Cortez’ exhibition New York New Wave.
At the same time, the South Bronx art space Fashion Moda, a Colab ally, was successful as the perceived artworld face of graffiti art.
Graffiti art contained strong collective elements, but failed to sustain itself as a movement in the New York artworld.
The mode of working has continued as a popular one, allied with the craft of sign painting. Today it is international in its reach, its styles seen in nearly every world city.
Group Material worked in a disciplined manner to build a political style of art exhibition.
They often worked together with PADD.
Group Material became a popular international model of a curatorially oriented artists’ collective.
These two groups took politicized art work in different directions – Group Material was on the inside, and PADD on the outside of the artworld system.
According to Lucy Lippard, activist artists following the PADD model were often caught between artworld demands for complexity and a community audience’s need for simplicity.
The context for PADD’s work settled into community art.
The relation between community art and works of art in institutional settings is intertwined during and after the 1990s.
New genre public art” in the ‘90s and most recently work in the “relational aesthetic” mode have borrowed from the practices of activist artists.
From the act of removal of an artwork from a museum which began the Art Workers Coalition to the heterodox exhibition which included a washing machine and dryer by Group Material, the period of this book saw a dissolution of the modernist “white cube.”
Group Material helped to establish the exhibition as a medium of art, and as a site for discussion.
Today artists are interested in both collective work and politicized practice.
The crises of the new century will be faced culturally by artists skilled in both.

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