Swan, Ethan, ed., Bowery Artist Tribute. Vol. 3 (Come Closer: Art Around the Bowery, 1969-1989; 09/19/12 – 12/30/12) New Museum (NYC, 2012) 6-7
At 5 Bleecker Street, I started getting involved with Colab. Robin Winters and I had done X&Y in the Netherlands the year before and when I came back all these people I knew from the Art Institute, from Chicago itself, fromt he Whitney program, and friends of friends who were in the same age group (in our twenties in the early ’70s) were in New York. So I got this place at 5 Bleecker– a storefront. It was a really great. Robin and I had been doing shows and installations in the Netherlands, but we stopped working together as X&Y and started organizing shows separately– showing our friends and ourselves in our own spaces. He had a loft at 591 Broadway and I had the 5 Bleecker place. I think the first show I did we actually did sort in conjunction: I did “Income and WEalth” and Robin did “Doctors and Dentists.” After that, I did “The Manifesto Show” with Jenny Holzer and Robin did “The Dog Show.” Then I did another show with Barbara Ess, Virginia Piersol, and Jane Sherry called “Just Another Asshole,” after their journal.
One reason I came to the Lower East Side was because it was the cheapest place to live. Another reason is from when I was at the Art Institute and they told us that we could invite artists we wanted. One of the people I wanted to invite was Jack Smith– I liked Flaming Creatures and Normal Love, but I’d never met him so Diego Cortez and I went to New York and tracked him down. It look weeks to find him because he kept moving from place to place– he’d had a place in SoHo where he had sawed down the second floor. Finally, I tracked him down to 2nd Street (East 2nd Street between B and C). At that time the Lower East Side was completely bombed out and he was living in this sort of shell surrounded by bigger shells. We went to visit him and when we invited him to Chicago he said, “Sure, I’d love to go.” Of course, he never showed up. When I went to do the Whitney program I looked him up right away and we back and asked, “Jack, what happened?” He goes, “Well, you didn’t come and get me.” So that was it. But because of that we became friends and I worked for him, for free, for about a year, helping him with his films and dusting his glass negatives, and just sitting and smoking with him, as well as roaming around the Lower East Side.
During that period I also made a film called L.E.S. I basically roamed around the streets with my camera, first by myself, and then a couple of times with Tom Sigel, and then later with Robin and Betsy Sussler. I forget who else was in the film but a lot of it was me going around taking pictures with a Super 8 camera. It’s all shot below 14th Street and above Houston, east of Avenue A, and people were pretty okay with it. I asked people before I filmed them– most of the people I didn’t know but I talked to them, the kids were really friendly. Later, I did shoot my neighborhood and people knew me. You sort of learn to ask people if it’s okay to shoot, even your neighbors. You want to ask ahead of time because a lot of people are in trouble with the law so they don’t want their faces on camera. It is sort of a trust thing– people would ask me where I would show the films. “It’s for artists,” I’d tell them, and it was, it didn’t go further than that. I think living here, you talk to your neighbors, you show them your work (a lot of times they come in to see the work in your house), you become friends with some of them, and they talk to their friends. I can’t think of too many artists that didn’t get somewhat involved with the neighborhood. At 5 Bleecker, I knew everyone on my block basically. I knew mostly artists but there were also the Bowery bums, I would get to know them too, they would come in and look at the shows, they had quite a few critiques of the Colab shows we were doing.
At the time, we were all unhappy that the galleries weren’t showing us. But, in retrospect, the financial condition was terrible then, there was no money, the galleries were struggling, most of them were struggling to sell the artists they did have, so how could they take on new artists? We were a slightly antagonistic group in some ways, but not meaning to, it was just in a time of politics. We all grew up with the Civil Rights Movement, Kennedy, women’s rights, gay rights, and communes. It was a time when people were trying to work more communally, not only with each other but with the environment they were in. It seemed to come naturally during that period. Maybe by the mid ’80s it had changed quite a bit: there was money coming into the art world, there was more going back to the galleries. But for that brief period, where there wasn’t anything else to do anyway, working outside the art world seemed like a great idea.
Video available here.