Whitehot Magazine

Never Above 14th Street: Urban Art Evolution

 Work by Rick Prol Courtesy of the Ilon Gallery


The work made by a group of artists who came to attention in Downtown New York between the late 70s and the early 80s is very much on the front burner right now. Events which signalled that they might be becoming a substantial presence include Never Above 14th Street, an auction at Phillip’s on March 24th 2023 and OG Wiz, a one nightery co-curated by the artist/mariner Reid Stowe and Maxine Hoover, which was billed as A 1980s Survivor Show and which included work by Rick Prol, Ford Crull, Linus Coraggio and Christopher Hart Chambers.

  The work made by these artists is also up at Urban Art

Evolution, a strong show curated by Christopher Pusey at the Nassau County Museum which opened on March 23 and will remain up until July 7. Other artists at Nassau include Jean Michel Basquiat, Ronnie Cutrone and Richard Hambleton. Also  Christopher Hart Chambers, Al Diaz, Scot Borofsky, Ken Hiratsuka, Linus Coraggio and Rick Prol and the work of the last six is also now up in Urban Art at Loni Efron’s Ilon ART Gallery at 204 West 123rd Street.

   So have writers, myself included, been too hasty in declaring that the Age of the Isms was well and truly over? And is it now prime time for Urbanism?  Well, yes and no. As was not the case with previous Isms, the work of these artists, their pictorial vocabularies,  are wholly unalike, veering from Graffiti to Ab Ex, from the pure abstractions of Scot Borofsky to the darkly cartoony images of Rick Prol. That said though, there’s clearly a coherence to these shows, a shared sensibility. Deriving from just what?

   Christopher Pusey has no problem with this question. “It’s an expression of the zip code that most of these artists resided in,” he said. “For me that was the binding element of the show. The exhibition, although it’s called Urban Art, it’s not only connected to the streets of a city, a metropolis, but it was also the vibe of a neighbourhood.”

  The nabe wasn’t just down to the vibe, though, it also meant active, sometimes intense experience. In 1984 Linus Coraggio, the skilled welder who made sculpture part of the graffiti movement, nearly took a tumble when his skateboard became embedded in a groove cut into a sidewalk. He would figure out from an article about the Downtown art scene by Walter Robinson and Carlo McCormick published in Art in America that the groove had been cut by Ken Hiratsuka, aka One Line Ken, the Japanese carver of graffiti in, for instance, city sidewalks.

   Coraggio spotted Hiratsuka at an event, showed him the magazine. “We ended up hanging out together,” he says. Coraggio, his girlfriend and Hiratsuka shared an apartment for a year, he says, adding that it was connections he made through Hiratsuka that led to the birth of that very durable Downtown sculpture phenomenon, the Rivington School.

   Hiratsuka has his own explanation for the coherence of the group. “We were a Downtown group of young artists in the same time, in the same era” he said.  “Many people wanted to enter the galleries. But they didn’t. So they started working outside. On the sidewalks … leaving their mark … “

   Jane Dickson, whose figurative canvases channel the dark sides of urban life, references sexual politics and Punk. “I was part of the Fun Gallery contingent, which was the first gallery in the East Village,” she says. “And then quickly after that Gracie Mansion started her gallery”. The nabe was crucial. “  “At that moment we were young, we were out and about all of the time. So people were influencing each other. And what is coherent about this group of artists is that we wanted to disrupt the status quo. As opposed to the Pictures generation who were people that just wanted to inherit the throne, be a link in the chain of art history, and that they all should be able to show at Leo Castelli.

   “But we were people who for various reasons had this punk outsider view of themselves. I will never be accepted by the status quo. So I and my friends, we are going to make our own situation”. WM

Work by Linus Coraggio, Courtesy of the Ilon Gallery


Anthony Haden-Guest


Anthony Haden-Guest (born 2 February 1937) is a British writer, reporter, cartoonist, art critic, poet, and socialite who lives in New York City and London. He is a frequent contributor to major magazines and has had several books published including TRUE COLORS: The Real Life of the Art World and The Last Party, Studio 54, Disco and the Culture of the Night.




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