I’m curious to see the New Museum’s new East Village USA exhibition, which memorializes the downtown art world of the early to mid 1980s, a time in which art, fashion, film, hip-hop, and rock all jostled and congealed into a movement that can now be encapuslated into something like, well, a museum exhibition. (That it was also a time when AIDS rampaged through the New York arts community gives the show its measure of sadness for those who lived in New York at the time and knew many of these people.)
Writes curator Dan Cameron, “Imagine a village where everybody is an artist, nobody has or needs a steady job, and anyone can be the art world’s Next Big Thing. Such was the myth (and occasionally the reality) of the East Village in the mid-1980s, when glamour and sleaze were nearly indistinguishable, and the boy next door was an androgynous, foot-high-peroxide-pompadour-sporting singer named John Sex. It was the height of the Reagan era, with its Cold War paranoia, intensified by growing nuclear fears, and inner cities and civic institutions in a state of increased upheaval and decay. Meanwhile, the East Village was busy inverting the values of trickle-down economics and gunboat diplomacy by transforming itself into the American dream’s dark underside, its evil twin, its inner child run amok.”
Unfortunately, despite the use of the word “film” in the New Museum’s promo material, a quick glance at the artist’s roster indicates that the scene’s vital underground filmmaking is unrepresented. Richard Kern pops up as does Charlie Ahearn, but where are Eric Mitchell, Beth and Scott B, Amos Poe, Jim Jarmusch, Sara Driver, and the many others whose film work was as much a part of this scene as the visual art?
Anyway, I’ll check out the show nonetheless but while doing some web surfing to find out what’s in it, I came across this great piece by novelist and former art critic Gary Indiana published in New York magazine. It’s his own personal and opinionated history of the period, one that winds through tales like buying gin-and-tonics for depressed serial killer Joel Rifkin to this elegantly melancholy conclusion:
I’m not prone to much sentimentality, but you should treasure your own history, however weird it is. William Burroughs once told me, “People like us are lucky because every shitty thing that happens to us is just more material.” So I wouldn’t miss the New Museum show for anything. I want to remember the many people I love who are gone and remind myself how much I love the ones who are still here. And I’ll let you in on a little secret: If you live long enough, you even get fond of people you thought you hated.