Saturday, March 18, 2006

THE DOWNTOWN SHOW. Seeing Blondie featured on Gothamist's Video of the Day inspired me to finally share some notes about The Downtown Show: The New York Art Scene 1974-1984, at NYU's Grey Art Gallery and Fales Library, with a complementary exhibit at The Arnold and Sheila Aronson Galleries at the clumsily named Parsons The New School for Design.

That's right: The exhibition is in no less than three venues. And even though I have issues with the presentation and I also suspect that it doesn't necessarily display the very best (or even most representative) work from the period and place, it's worth seeing, with extra nostalgia value for anyone who feels any sort of connection with the scene.

I mean, I'm not sure I could be described as even being on the fringe of the fringe, but I still have fond memories of "discovering" the constantly changing yet somehow enduring Rocks in Your Head when it was a record store/ice cream parlor (where Laurie Anderson records were readily available and I caught my first glimpse of Ed Wood's Glen or Glenda on video), the nearby postcard store (a postcard was a very cool way to communicate and decorate in the days before email), Canal Jeans (when it was a place to get cool used clothing), that time a bunch of us uncoolly shouted out Jim Carroll's name in the direction of a guy who looked like him (and might, in fact, have been him), and, miles and miles away, seeing a screening of Blank Generation that drove people crazy because its silent footage of Talking Heads, Wayne County, and other downtown music luminaries wasn't synched with their music. (I shared a lot of those experiences with The Other David. To use the cool parlance of the day: Thanks, man!)

Blank Generation, which is part of the exhibit at the Grey Art Gallery, was screened in one of those video boxes that is so close to other video boxes that the sounds from each clash. Yeah, maybe that's even more punk than Blank Generation alone, was driving me crazy!

We interrupt this blog entry for a short and low-quality but still intense clip of Richard Hell and the Voidoids performing "Blank Generation."

We now return to the entry-in-progress.

Elsewhere at Grey I enjoyed the photos of Adam Purple's The Garden of Eden (perhaps you too have seen Adam Purple around town) and a lot of the stuff in the basement, including antique footage of Madonna singing "Like A Virgin" and David Van Tieghem drumming up and down the streets in Ear to the Ground (something else I think I managed to see in the olden days). Tseng Kwong Chi's Self-Portrait with World Trade Center (1980) is a standout, as is this Cindy Sherman photo. I love how Sherman incorporates and (to use the parlance of the approximate day) reinvents a New York City setting. (It is the main branch of the public library, isn't it?)

Piece for piece, I liked the exhibit at the Fales Library the most. It's located in NYU's Bobst Library, where (coincidentally) the Philip Johnson design evokes memories of the Escher drawings that enjoyed a resurgence during the period covered in the exhibition. At the entrance is a bunch of signage (with piped-in period music) that captures a lot of the graphic sensibility of those times. As The Other David put it, those were the days when most folks had access to photocopying machines (and, I note, typewriters) but not computer printers. A graphic style that I think was under-represented at the exhibit was the newspaper cut-and-paste approach that resembled notes made by kidnappers; another was the retro-look that soon became mainstream. Also at Fales is the Body Politics section, which shows a sample of what William Wegman was doing before he became famous for his dog pictures and also includes photos by Robert Mapplethorpe and Arnie Zane, who, dammit, were to become victims of the incipient AIDS plague.

The small Parsons exhibit includes some comix and examples of fashion. The emphasis (such at it is at a small display) is on designer fashion, though so much of the style of the period consisted of torn T-shirts and jeans, an extreme alternative to the expensive primping associated with disco culture.

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