It seems to be the right time to zoom in on historical exhibitions. During quarantine, there are different ways to e-experience art. Some art institutions are offering exhibitions online, some put more info online. However, the MoMA is one of the few institutions who have had their archive online for a while. This includes the exhibition history of PS1, which was an independent contemporary art institute from 1971 to 1999 when they announced their institutional merger with MoMA.
If I could pick one exhibition that took place in the past, PS1, New York/ New Wave from 1981 would make the shortlist. The group exhibition New York/New Wave, curated by Diego Cortez is most famous for opening up the New York art scene to the then 20-year-old Basquiat. The curator presciently captured a “new wave” of New York art, Nan Goldin, Keith Haring, Robert Mapplethorpe, Kathy Acker, William Burroughs and radiant child Jean-Michel but also Lawrence Weiner and Andy Warhol. Curatorially, the exhibition reflected the vibrant creativity of the punk scene. No frames, not hung at exactly 58 inches from the floor, no informative wall labels and text, no auratic space around each artwork for a religious experience of art. The installation shots on the MoMA website reveal how top-to-floor, wall-to-wall, even the floors itself were covered in art. Glad they didn’t suck the life out of the artistic practices by pristinely white-cubing it.
New York at the time was different, to say the least. The city was on the verge of bankruptcy, Fear City, as it was called for a while, was infested with crime and poverty. But also with art. Young artists from economically deprived areas of the city used spray paint to create and subway cars became exquisite canvases. Obviously, while some saw street art as raw expressiveness and recognised its conceptual power, others saw it as vandalism. What can you do? At the same time, while there were a lot of alternative art spaces, the art market would soon be saturated with commercial materialistic art, epitomised by Koons. But at this time, there was also the punk subculture, mainly found in the East Village and Lower East Side, a synthesis between the punk music and visual art. I.e. fuck authority in music, fuck authority in art. A cacophony of a scrappy, mismatched, multimedia hodgepodge.
The raw energy was first caught by Cortez in another exhibition, The Times Square Show in June 1980, which was praised on the title page of the Village Voice as “the first radical art show of the eighties.” Thorough accounts of the groundbreaking show can be found here: http://www.timessquareshowrevisited.com/exhibition.html
As artist Glenn O’Brien wrote, “Artists dropped in and contributed to this nonstop party, a continuous work-in-progress that featured not only the best young artists but also film, video, and live music performances. It brought worlds together-the uptown (as in the Bronx) with the downtown, the theoretical with the impulsive, the vandals with the decorators.”
And then there was the large group show in Queens, a hybrid of art, photography, music, and fashion, the exhibition captured the pulse of a new avant-garde art and music scene. There are loads of shots to be found here, check them out here: https://www.moma.org/calendar/exhibitions/4213?