April 2011, Art, Access & Decay: New York 1975-1985

Jane Dickson, Skull Fan


Access & Decay: New York 1975-1985
Subliminal Projects Gallery
1331 W Sunset Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90026
April 2nd through April 30th, 2011

It is to no surprise that a group exhibit such as Art, Access & Decay: New York 1975-1985 would be welcomed at Subliminal Projects gallery in Echo Park. It belongs to Shepard Fairey, an artist who is one of today's most famous and influential street artists. Fairey was first noticed through his street art, criticizing the US government and George W. Bush and then rose to mainstream fame through the popularity and controversy of the Barack Obama "Hope" poster that supported the U.S presidential election.

Therefore curators Peter Frank and Lisa Kahane's presentation of artifacts of the New Vernacular art movement that developed out of pop art and paved the way to low-brow and street art, are right at home among the art forms the gallery's owner became known for. It is also worth noting, the New Vernacular emerged in neighborhoods of New York that were crime-riddled, neglected and unraveled and the location of Subliminal Projects Gallery mirrors some of the same issues. And of course it is no accident that the exhibit was put up around the same time as the Geffen Contemporary at MOCA opened Art in the Streets, Crewest Gallery opened Above the Radar, and Carmichael Gallery offers Martha Cooper: Remix, among the dozens of area exhibitions and film series also addressing the history of art with ties to the street.

The exhibit contains art objects by and about roughly 35 different artists. Among them are Lisa Kahane, Jenny Holzer, Jane Dickson and Christof Kohlhofer. Some of them were made by an artist organization called Collaborative Projects or Colab with which these mentioned artists were associated, headquartered on the Lower East Side. Others were made in Fashion Moda, a gallery and activity space situated in the South Bronx, at that time just about the most economically devastated neighborhood in the US. The remaining works were made in the East Village, at a time when it was emerging as a vital alternative to SoHo's increasingly upscale art scene.

Christof Kohlhofer, I'm Very Hungry

Jane Dickson's Skull Fans are two out of a series of 30, both depicting white skulls on a black background. These works were inspired through a real skull Dickson's friend, a guard at the Museum of Natural History in NYC, gave her, which she then used as a model for her fans that she wanted to sell in the Colab gift shops of the Times Square Show in 1980. Peepland Conversation II (1984-2000) is part of a series "Life under Neon" inspired also by Times Square, painted while Dickson lived there and held a job as a designer of computer animation. This painting made out of red, yellow, blue, white and brown oilstick on linen, models her view from her studio window on 42nd Street at night, showing several men gathering and passing by a peep show theater. The painting expresses Dickson's fascination with the power of artificial light, as well as the surreal and sexually trangessive environment in which she spent so much of her time.

Jenny Holzer's Ten Inflammatory Essays (1979-1982) is a set of 10 offset posters on colorful paper. It is displayed in the exhibit room in the front and draws immediate attention through its flamboyance. The texts are a flow of thoughts about the usage of guns and aggression, change, domination, fear, superabundance, intolerable times and the overthrow of oppressors. Lisa Kahane's No Picture is a black and white photograph depicting several screenless TVs on rubble in front of an old building in the South Bronx. The image shows no indication of vegetation and human life and is reminiscent of images of a city in ruins after war. Gardening is a color photograph that represents the devastation permeating the landscape of the Bronx. On the left hand-side there is a figure carrying on with life alongside abandoned buildings and a debris-strewn lot.

Christof Kohlhofer's 25 Billion Dollars is a blue and beige ink drawing that represents 25 Billon Dollar bills. I'm very Hungry is a mixed media piece that shows a handwritten note on a brown piece of paper on top of a red background with the message "I am very hungry can you please help me with some change." The juxtaposed works suggest the two extremes in the US, the great wealth and the extreme poverty living side by side. 14 Kilos at the Airport is an acrylic painting that shows a bold man attaching some packages onto a woman's skirt, while another man is observing him. The painting suggests the violence and crack epidemic that hit New York City in the mid-eighties.

Although the show seems a bit overwhelming at first, because it is not arranged by the neighborhoods and occurrences in which they were created, but by artist, it is ultimately versatile and insightful as to what was going on in New York between the mid-70s and mid-80s, in the real life neighborhoods and lives of the artists who presaged the full-blown street art movement that has so captured the current imagination.

Christof Kohlhofer, 25 Billion Dollars

Jane Dickson, Peepland Conversation II

Simone Kussatz

Simone Kussatz is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles. She has written numerous articles in the field of the arts for international and national magazines published in Germany, the US and UK, China, Iceland, and Switzerland. Kussatz was born in Asperg, Germany. She holds a Master's degree in American Studies, journalism and psychology and received her education from Santa Monica College, UCLA and the Free University of Berlin. In 2004, she produced and hosted three TV-shows under the title "Metamorphosis", where she conducted interviews with Jewish artists in regard to the Holocaust. Kussatz has also worked in theater in the position of stage supervisor and manager in the plays “Talley’s Folly” and “The Immigrant.” She has taught English as a Second Language and served at Xiamen University in China, as well as EC Language Center in London.

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