Exuberant 80s: An East Village Painters Circle
Mike Bidlo, Luis Frangella, Judy Glantzman, Rick Prol, Russell Sharon, and David Wojnarowicz
Organized by Hal Bromm and Jane Wesman
Johannes Vogt Gallery
April 2 - April 30, 2017
By MARK BLOCH, APR. 2017
Johannes Vogt Gallery is presenting a group show of two and three dimensional works made in the early 1980s by six artists who emerged during the height of New York’s vibrant East Village art scene called “Exuberant 80s: An East Village Painters Circle.” The paintings and constructions by Mike Bidlo, Luis Frangella, Judy Glantzman, Rick Prol, Russell Sharon, and David Wojnarowicz share an explosive spirit that exemplifies the artistic zeitgeist of that era, including an expressive boldness and a willingness to experiment with both media and subject matter that results in a seeming wide diversity of styles and approaches that emerge from behind the focused motivations and intentions they shared with each other—as well as other artists of the period.
“They wanted to get away from the establishment, from the upper east side, from 57th Street and even from Soho,” said collector Jane Wesman, who organized the exhibition with gallerist Hal Bromm. “They wanted to get away from being judged by that establishment. They wanted freedom. It was a time of great experimentation, and an awareness of what was going on in the world, a rebelliousness.” Wesman and Bromm shared many experiences with these artists. Their goal with this show is to highlight this special time in the art world that made them friends with each other and with the artists—for decades. In addition to the art works, photographs and other ephemera from that era add to the sense that this was an important, unique and spirited time in the history of New York.
Every one of these six artists brought a quirky and unique individual touch to their work reflecting their own personal mythology while asserting their individual voices, each longing to be heard. This exhibition features Wojnarowicz’s painting, sculpture, photography, and more that reflect his queer, powerful but isolated point of departure, his friend Bidlo’s well-known copycat “Not Pollock” paintings; Frangella’s freewheeling figurative painting that utilizes bold colors and thus has much in common with Glantzman’s portraits and carved Plexiglas sculptures in enamel that project facial expressions that appear frozen in existential musings; Sharon’s strange landscapes in primary colors on stretched plastic seen alongside his wooden furniture and sculptures, and Prol’s contortionist figures, scenes and evocative tableaus that complete the look back. “I love how fresh the art looks,” Wesman said, recalling the friendships and partnerships among the artists while admiring how contemporary it all feels.
These challenging artists were part of one large, but tight-knit community, a group of other groups of painters and creators who worked and played together and who exhibited with each other when they could in two- and three- person shows, group exhibits and life-imitates-art events that defined the scene of that time. All six artists participated in the guerilla takeover of Pier 34 in 1983, a vast, abandoned, warehouse-sized space on the East River that they transformed into a gargantuan art laboratory when the they divied it up before they were forced out by New York City authorities. Several of them were featured in the landmark exhibition Neo York at the University Art Museum, Santa Barbara, California in November 1984.
Then there were the personal relationships, David Wojnarowicz and Luis Frangella were good friends and showed in Luis's native Argentina together. Wojnarowicz and Bidlo were the power behind the Pier 34 installation while Russell Sharon and Frangella were romantically linked. Judy Glantzman, and Rick Prol were artists the curators believed in then as well as now and remember fondly road trips taken and other shared encounters.
“Today’s young artists and young art dealers, don’t know what the East Village was about,” said Wesman. “It was a tighter, smaller art world... before email and social networking. When I speak to them about that era, they all seem very interested. These were young artists that were also friends, interested in a vital club scene. The Mudd Club and the Limbo Lounge were clubs but they were promoting art. The artists were hanging out when they weren't working. It was like the East Village version of the Cedar Bar.”
The artists showed in East Village galleries such as Gracie Mansion, New Math, Civilian Warfare, as well as the Hal Bromm Gallery in addition to the aforementioned non-traditional social spaces. They were young and enthusiastic, in their late 20s or 30s, producing work on readily available materials in fast and energetic bursts of vital energy.
Then just as interesting as it was when things ramped up in the middle of the 1970s, things began to change as the 80s wore on. “It was soon overwhelmed by media attention, money and the stakes got higher,” Wesman said. David Wojnarowicz and Luis Frangella were casualties of the AIDS epidemic. Now Wesman and Bromm want to share the work of these six artists for a reason. “Art is a reflection of everything in life, aesthetics, social life, the human condition,” Wesman explained. “What true art brings is at the core of what makes us human.” She attributes “the creative, spiritual drive and energy to make something” to what makes these particular artists communicate today. WM
Mark Bloch is a writer, performer, videographer and multi-media artist living in Manhattan. In 1978, this native Ohioan founded the Post(al) Art Network a.k.a. PAN. NYU's Downtown Collection now houses an archive of many of Bloch's papers including a vast collection of mail art and related ephemera. For three decades Bloch has done performance art in the USA and internationally. In addition to his work as a writer and fine artist, he has also worked as a graphic designer for ABCNews.com, The New York Times, Rolling Stone and elsewhere. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and PO Box 1500 NYC 10009.
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